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What does a Reconstructive Surgeon do?

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  • Written By: Mary Elizabeth
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 19 November 2016
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Plastic surgery is a collection of medical procedures that restore, correct or change the form or function of the body or parts of the body for therapeutic or aesthetic reasons. Plastic surgeons have at least six years of training and experience in surgery, three of those specializing in plastic surgery. There are two main types of plastic surgeons. One type includes cosmetic plastic surgeons, those who specialize in plastic surgery done for aesthetic reasons. A reconstructive surgeon, on the other hand, specializes in plastic surgery performed for therapeutic reasons.

There are several procedures that are fairly standard for reconstructive surgeons. One is tissue expansion, a procedure to grow extra skin. The skin can then be used for other procedures, such as repairing skin that was damaged through an accident, birth defect, or surgery, as well as for use in several procedures done for cosmetic reasons.

Tissue expansion is sometimes used as a precursor to scar revision. Scarring can be repaired in a number of ways, depending on the situation. Techniques that a reconstructive surgeon might use to diminish the severity of a scar include topical applications, injections, skin treatments such as bleaching, chemical peels, dermabrasion, or light therapy, or tissue replacement with either skin grafts from a tissue expansion or a pharmaceutical tissue substitute.

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Another important focus of the reconstructive surgeon may be hand surgery. Diseases and disorders such as carpal tunnel syndrome, Dupuytren’s contracture, and rheumatoid arthritis can impair the flexibility and functioning of the fingers and wrist. Hand reconstructive surgery may also be performed when there has been an injury to the hand or fingers or when a birth defect inhibits normal functioning, as in syndactyly, the most common congenital malformation or the arms or legs, when several fingers are fused together. The reconstructive surgeon may operate on patients with syndactyly who are less than one year old.

Cleft lip and cleft palate surgery is another kind of reconstructive surgery mainly performed on children. Though cleft lip can be relatively minor in some cases, the combination can affect eating, the development of speech, and lead to ear infections and hearing loss. The reconstructive surgeon will often perform several rounds of surgery, repairing the cleft lip when the child is less than three months old, the cleft palate by the child’s first birthday, and doing follow-up surgery as needed following the child’s second birthday.

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