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People mistakenly assume the word plastic in plastic surgery implies artificial and that this procedure involves the insertion or usage of some type of “plastic material” to reshape disfigured body tissue.
The word plastic comes from the Greek word “plastikos,” which means to rearrange, mold, or restore. Thus, this surgical specialty aims to repair congenital, traumatic, and acquired physical defects (1) by restoring, reconstructing, and reshaping damaged tissue.
The term “plastic surgery” was chosen for a new surgical specialty formed by surgeons and dentists that had worked with terrible disfiguring injuries during World War ll.
Different Types of Plastic Surgery
Plastic surgery includes many types of procedures for reconstruction, such as:
- Repair of burn deformities
- Hand surgery
- Breast reconstruction after breast removal from cancer surgery (2)
- Repair of congenital deformities such as a cleft lip or palate
- Restoration of functional joints after traumatic damage to the skin covering (3)
The following procedures are done for the cosmetic or aesthetic improvement of appearance:
Medical Conditions That Warrant Plastic Surgery
Medical conditions, whether congenital or sustained from injury that restrict or prevent normal function or structure of a body part, generally warrant plastic surgical reconstruction.
People with diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis that ruin finger joint function could also benefit from the plastic surgical reconstruction of the affected joint. (6)
Even normal events such as pregnancy can stretch or distort abdominal tissue enough to cause abdominal hernias, which then interfere with function. For such a case, a combined tummy tuck and hernia repair are advised.
Benefits of Plastic Surgery
The benefits of plastic surgery include restoration or improvement of function as well as appearance. For example, droopy eyelids may interfere with vision and may also make one appear older, but reconstruction or repair can improve both function of the lid and its appearance.
Also, excision of scar tissue from a severe burn and replacing coverage with a skin graft or flap allow the return of full motion to the affected joint such as a knee or elbow.
Difference Between Plastic Surgery and Cosmetic Surgery
Plastic surgery is the only specialty devoted to reconstruction, including cosmetic surgical procedures, that is recognized by the American Board of Medical Specialties.
Cosmetic surgery includes surgery simply to change the cosmetic appearance of the face or body and is not a medical specialty per se. (1)
Does Plastic Surgery Leave Behind Scars?
When your skin is cut or ripped open, the wound heals with the two edges of the ruptured skin gradually knitting together.
But if you exert tension or pressure on the incision while it’s only beginning to heal, it could keep the skin from binding together closely and result in wide scars. It takes a minimum of 6 weeks for the skin to heal.
Trained plastic surgeons minimize scarring by using several methods. Using absorbable sutures placed beneath the skin to reduce pulling on healing skin edges is routine for trained plastic surgeons as part of the wound closure in layers.
Simply planning the location and direction of incision placement within skin wrinkle lines will minimize any postoperative scar appearance. This is because normal skin laxity is what causes the emergence of a wrinkle line.
Is Plastic Surgery Permanent?
Nothing is permanent, including the final appearance of a surgical wound, except that there will be a scar present even if not noticeable.
If the surgery was done to reduce or correct a defect or improve a damaged function, the postsurgical result should still be better than the original defect even years later. However, after facelift surgery, for example, facial features would still show age as time passes.
Gravity will resume its downward pull, the skin will continue to stretch, and the face will begin to take on a more aged appearance. Nevertheless, the patient will still look younger than they would have if no surgery had been done.
Skin Grafting: A Tool in Plastic Surgery
Skin grafting is a technique used by surgeons to provide coverage of a skin defect from trauma or even skin loss from the excision of skin cancer.
Plastic surgeons use this method perhaps more often than other types of surgeons, though. Different thicknesses of skin graft are taken to cover a wound to get the best restoration.
Full-thickness grafts are used when pliability and function need to be retained after surgery, for instance, after removal of a large eyelid skin cancer. (7) Full-thickness skin from behind the ear is suitable for eyelid or nose reconstruction as the ear crease doesn’t mind sharing itself!
Risk Factors Associated With Plastic Surgery
The risks can be from the compromised health of the patient or the seriousness of the surgery itself.
Complications associated with plastic surgery include bleeding or infection after surgery, but these risks are anticipated and minimized by the surgeons and anesthesiologists before the procedure. Moreover, anesthesia always carries a risk, especially in prolonged surgeries.
Plastic surgery is real surgery, whether done under general anesthesia or local anesthesia. You should allow time off work and refrain from activities that may disrupt the healing in order to get the best results. If your plastic surgery is for the reconstruction of a difficult defect, it is advised to get second opinions.
A truly good plastic surgeon should encourage his/her patient to get other opinions sometimes. This is especially true if the patient seems to have doubts or is unclear about the surgery and possible outcomes.