When you have a medical condition that warrants attention, it is important to understand where to go to seek care. If you have aesthetic concerns that you would like to address, having knowledge about what kinds of treatments and procedures are available can help you make good, informed decisions. At Real Cosmetic and Plastic Surgery in Moonee Ponds, VIC, we offer both reconstructive surgery and cosmetic surgery. A common question we get is, what is the difference between reconstructive and plastic surgery?
What Is Plastic Surgery?
Defining Plastic Surgery
Plastic surgery is a specialty intervention that involves the reshaping, restoration or repair of the human body. It can be done either to improve function or aesthetic appearance. Often, it is accomplished through tissue transfers. Plastic surgery falls into two categories: reconstructive and cosmetic.
While most people think of plastic surgery and cosmetic surgery as synonyms, cosmetic surgery is actually a subspecialty of plastic surgery. Reconstructive surgery is another subspecialty, and the differences between reconstructive surgery and cosmetic surgery are significant. Generally speaking, reconstructive surgery is done to repair a body part after an accident or a disease, whereas cosmetic surgery is done to enhance the appearance.
The difference between reconstructive surgery and cosmetic surgery can be understood by comparing two procedures that alter the breasts: reconstruction following a mastectomy and breast augmentation. The former is an example of reconstructive surgery because it is done in response to a disease (cancer). The latter is a cosmetic procedure because it is done to improve the aesthetics of the breasts.
The term “plastic surgery” actually comes from the Greek word plastikē (tekhnē) which means “the art of modeling”. In this context, it refers to modeling the human body.
As its name implies, reconstructive procedures aim to reconstruct parts of the body that have been adversely affected by trauma, injury, infection, tumors, or disease. Usually, the goal is to restore the body part to the functionality and appearance it had before the trauma. Therefore, reconstructive procedures often have an aesthetic element, and it is important for patients to communicate with their doctors about what visual outcomes they expect.
Examples of common reconstructive procedures include:
- Reconstruction of breasts after a mastectomy
- Hand reconstructions
- Reattachment of amputated digits
- Surgery to reduce the appearance of burns
- Reconstructive procedures for the head and/or neck
- Reconstruction of lower limbs after fractures
Reconstructive procedures are also done to correct birth defects. In this case, the goal is to remake affected body parts so that they can function and appear more normal. Examples of this include cleft lip and palate repair and craniofacial surgery.
Sometimes, reconstructive procedures can be done following recovery from an illness or condition. For example, patients who have lost a significant amount of weight sometimes have a reconstructive procedure to remove excessive skin or tissue. Procedures can also be done on one part of the body to improve a condition affecting another area. For example, some women have breast reductions to improve lower back pain.
Cosmetic surgery is done for aesthetic reasons to improve the appearance of one or more of the patient’s physical features. While the goals are mostly visual, the benefits of cosmetic surgery can extend to the patient’s well-being by improving self-esteem and confidence. Many individuals choose cosmetic surgery so that they can both look and feel their best.
Some common cosmetic procedures include:
- Breast augmentation
- Ear pinning and otoplasty
- Face lifts
- Neck lifts
Areas of Overlap
There is significant overlap between reconstructive surgery and cosmetic surgery. Many practices offer both. For both reconstruction and aesthetics, procedures can be surgical, minimally invasive, or non-surgical.
Often, one procedure is done for both reconstructive and cosmetic reasons. For example, rhinoplasty (nose surgery) is often done to improve breathing after a nasal fracture, but the patient can also choose to reconstruct the nose in a way that enhances its original appearance. Another example is blepharoplasty (eyelid surgery), which can correct drooping eyelids. This procedure can benefit the appearance of the patient while also enhancing vision.
A Look at Some Reconstructive Procedures
Surgery for Burns
There are two types of surgery done for burns. Immediately after a burn is inflicted, acute burn surgery is done to repair the tissue. If the burn has already healed, reconstructive surgery can be done to improve scarring. Sometimes, in the case of acute burn surgery, plastic surgeons can offer their consultation. In the case of severe burns, acute surgery is often followed by reconstructive procedures.
Reconstructive burn surgery can make scars less noticeable and improve the functionality of the affected area. For example, surgery for facial scars can benefit the nose, lips, and eyes, depending on whether or not these areas are affected. In the body, it can restore range of motion to the neck, shoulders, hands, and legs, among other areas.
There are numerous treatment options available for burns, including skin grafts, skin rearrangement, and the use of donor flaps. In some cases, non-surgical therapies can be offered.
Reconstructive procedures for the hands can be done in response to an injury or disease. They often involve tendon reconstruction, nerve reconstruction, artery reconstruction, repair of lacerations, and repair of bone fractures.
The methods used in reconstructive hand surgery vary greatly according to the situation. For bone fractures, a system of medical wires, screws, and plates can serve to improve the functionality of the hand. If you are a candidate for hand surgery, your treatment can be determined by a detailed assessment of your condition.
Some conditions that merit reconstructive hand surgery include:
- Carpel tunnel syndrome
- Dupuytren’s Contracture
- De Quervain’s Tenosynovitis
- Conditions affecting the fingers
- Conditions affecting the Ulnar nerve
Reattachment of Amputated Fingers
If conditions are favorable, reconstructive procedures can be used to reattach amputated digits. This is sometimes also referred to as microsurgery. It involves reconstructing missing tissues, transferring tissues from other sites, and reconnecting blood vessels.
Breast Reconstruction Following a Mastectomy
A mastectomy is a treatment for breast cancer that involves the removal of the breast tissue. Following this procedure, many women choose to have the shape and look of their breasts rebuilt via reconstructive procedures. It is possible to rebuild both the nipple-areola complex and the surrounding tissue.
To accomplish this, surgeons use autologous tissue (tissue that has been removed and transplanted from another area of the body), prosthetic implants, or a combination of the two. The reconstruction can be done immediately after the mastectomy or after a delay.
Reconstructive procedures can have greatly positive psychological benefits on patients who have had a long-fought battle with cancer. Specifically, it can help them adjust to a new body image and gain a sense of having recovered attributes that were lost.
Reconstructive Procedures for Fractures
A fracture occurs when a bone is cracked or broken, usually as the result of an injury. A bad fall, a motor vehicle accident, or a sports injury can all result in a fracture. Plastic surgeons are especially important in cases where the bone has broken through the skin. This kind of injury is referred to as an open fracture. In such cases, aesthetic considerations are important in assuring that the wound heals with minimal effect on the patient’s appearance.
Who Is a Good Candidate for a Reconstructive Procedure?
There are many conditions, situations, and injuries that merit the consideration of reconstructive procedures. If you have had a trauma or disease that has altered the form and/or functionality of your body, a reconstructive procedure can help to restore it to its original condition. Certain types of injuries can have a significant impact on your appearance and can be treated most effectively by a plastic surgeon or with a plastic surgeon’s consultation. These include severe burns anywhere on the body and injuries to the face.
Conditions and injuries that result in the loss of significant amounts of tissue can also merit a reconstructive procedure. Examples of this type of situation include the loss of breast tissue as a result of a mastectomy and the amputation of a finger.
Who Is a Good Candidate for Cosmetic Surgery?
Cosmetic surgery can be a good option for people who want to improve their physical appearance. It can help patients meet their aesthetic goals and take control over the way they look.
People who have had difficulty maintaining a healthy weight via diet and exercise have the option to reduce their body fat via cosmetic surgery. If you want to establish different ratios in your face, such as the shape and protrusion of your ears or the shape of your eyes, cosmetic surgery can be an effective solution. It can also benefit people who want to maintain a more youthful appearance via a facelift or a necklift.
Recovery and Results
All the factors relating to the recovery and the results of your procedure vary according to your current condition and your treatment plan. These include the downtime and the expected outcome. Plastic surgeons take your recovery into consideration when planning your treatment, working to provide you with results as quickly as possible with minimal interruption to your normal activities.
Schedule a Consultation
The best way to learn more about how to treat your condition and what options are available to you is to schedule a consultation. At our practice, Mr. Salerno can give you an assessment and answer all your questions. He can design a treatment for you that can give you the best results, whether you wish to restore functionality, enhance your appearance, or both.
Mr. Salerno offers both reconstructive and cosmetic treatments. In the case of reconstructive procedures, he can use his cosmetic knowledge to prioritize the concerns you might have regarding your appearance following the procedure. Your consultation is a good time to discuss all of your expectations regarding your desired outcome.
Plastic Surgery: Reconstructive vs Cosmetic
The confusion between reconstructive and cosmetic surgery is understandable. Both are subspecialties of plastic surgery, and both are often performed at the same practice. Often one practitioner can offer services that fall under both subspecialties. In summary, the main difference between the two is that while cosmetic surgery is done for visual benefits, reconstructive surgery is performed in response to a medical concern.
Plastic surgery can have significant psychological and health benefits. In the case of a trauma, illness or infection, it can help minimize a patient’s loss. Aesthetic considerations merit serious consideration because of the psychological effect they have on people. Improving a patient’s appearance or restoring it to what it was before a traumatic event can positively affect self-esteem.
Contact Real Cosmetic Plastic Surgery in Moonee Ponds, VIC for more information on the treatments and procedures we offer. We are happy to give you more information on how we can help you look and feel your best.