Definition and Overview

Also referred to as thighplasty or a thigh lift is a surgical procedure that involves the removal of excess skin and fat deposits to improve the contours of thighs and legs.

The skin is composed of many layers. In the deeper part is the collagen, the biggest protein in the body that is part of the connective tissue. It is chiefly responsible for "holding together" joints, bones, and tissues to form the body's structure. It also makes the skin tight and supple. However, as the person gets older, the amount of collagen he or she produces declines, causing the skin to sag.

Loose skin can also happen when a person suddenly or quickly experiences significant weight loss. This is compounded when the person doesn't perform toning exercises to keep the muscles taut as the body starts dropping off the excess pounds.

Thigh lift may either be medial (inner) or lateral (outer). If the buttocks also need to be lifted, a posterior thigh lift is carried out. A surgeon would be able to determine which of them is the best based on your objectives, preferences, and amount of loose skin, to name a few.

Often, thigh lift is combined with other surgical procedures such as tummy tuck and arm lift to improve the body's overall contours.

Who should undergo and expected results

The best candidates for thigh lift are those who:

  • Worry about the appearance of their thighs – Excessive loose skin around the thigh area may prevent women, for example, from wearing swimwear, shorts, and skirts. In the process, the cosmetic problem can reduce a person's level of self-confidence.
  • Want to achieve a more proportioned body – Excessive skin with fat deposits and cellulite can make thighs look bigger and the lower torso heavier. Petite women may appear smaller.
  • Have gone through a dramatic weight lossWeight loss surgeries may remove the excess fat deposits but are not designed to sculpt the body. This leaves the body with unsightly loose skin. Also, a person can lose weight with exercise, but without proper toning, excess skin can still develop.

On the other hand, thigh lift may not be ideal if the person:

  • Smokes –Thigh lift is often an invasive surgery and thus requires considerable time for recovery. Smoking can influence the healing process and even prevent wound sites from eventually healing.
  • Has a lot of fat deposits – Thigh lift is recommended to healthy individuals who have excessive loose skin. Although the procedure may remove some fat, it is not meant for weight loss. If a person wishes to remove a good amount of fat, thigh lift can be complemented with liposuction. Even then, if the person's BMI is very high, he or she may be recommended to lose some weight or undergo weight loss surgery, if necessary, before other cosmetic procedures can be carried out.

The effects of thigh lift are immediate, although the thighs may still appear quite bigger due to swelling. Nevertheless, this should subside within one to two weeks and by then, the expected results can be seen. The results can also last for a very long time. However, to guarantee that, a person should closely monitor nutrition or diet, as well as stick to exercise routines, especially those that help tone the muscles.

How the procedure works

The first step to thigh lift is the consultation. During this process, the surgeon analyzes the amount of loose skin and fat that can be removed during the procedure. The doctor also assesses the person's medical history to ensure he or she is safe to undergo a thigh lift. Since this is not an emergency surgery, the date of the actual surgery can be scheduled.

A general anesthesia is administered to significantly minimize movements. The thigh area is then disinfected before incisions are made. The kind of incision differs between medial and lateral thigh lift.

In medial thigh lift, the incision is made on the inner legs, from the groin toward the hip. In the lateral thigh lift, the incision runs from the groin crease near the outer part of the thigh toward the back or the buttocks. This procedure is ideal for people who have undergone significant weight loss but left with a lot of excess skin.

Once the incisions are made, the excess skin tissues are surgically removed along with some fat. The remaining skin is then re-draped to the muscles. Sutures will then be used to close the incisions and ensure the new structure remains in place.

Depending on the invasiveness of the procedure, the patient may have to stay in the hospital or clinic for at least overnight. By the next day, someone, such as a family member or a friend, should drive off the patient to his or her home to ensure limited activities or movements that may otherwise affect the healing process.

Although the patient may already walk or move the legs, the surgeon may advise against lifting very heavy objects or engaging in strenuous activities. A compression garment may also be provided to speed up the recovery.

Possible risks and complications

As much as possible, the incisions are made in the groin creases to ensure they don't become visible later on. However, visible scarring can still occur especially if the incisions were long and extensive and if a lot of skin has been removed.

Like any other surgery, infection can happen. To minimize it, the surgeon usually provides antibiotics that should be taken over a number of days. Edema or swelling due to accumulation of fluid, meanwhile, can be prevented by attaching drainage tubes. These should be removed at least a week after the procedure.

Other possible risks include physical pain, which can sometimes become persistent, skin discoloration, asymmetry of the legs, allergic reaction to the anesthesia, and loss of sensation in the surgical area.


  • Christopher K. Livingston, MD, assistant professor of plastic surgery, University of Texas, Houston.
  • WebMD Medical Reference from "The Plastic Surgery Sourcebook."
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