What is a Harmonic Scalpel?

A harmonic scalpel may be used during a tummy tuck procedure.
A harmonic scalpel will be used during surgical procedures.
A harmonic scalpel may be used during breast reduction surgery.
Using a harmonic scalpel can provide a surgeon greater cutting precision.
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  • Written By: Rolando Braza
  • Edited By: J.T. Gale
  • Last Modified Date: 25 October 2015
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A harmonic scalpel is a piece of medical equipment used in surgical procedures as an option to a steel scalpel. It uses ultrasound technology to cut tissues while simultaneously sealing them the edges of the cut. The system typically is composed of a hand-held ultrasonic transducer, generator, hand switch, foot pedal, and scalpel that serves as the cutting instrument.

During the procedure, the scalpel vibrates in the 55,500 hertz range while cutting through a tissue and at the same time sealing them by employing protein denaturation to stop bleeding. Medical procedures that can be performed using the harmonic scalpel include thyroidectomy, lung biopsy, laparoscopic cyst decortication, tonsillectomy, and gynecologic cancer. Many plastic surgeons have also found that it is a better system to performing plastic surgery, such as a face-lift, breast reduction, breast augmentation, or tummy tuck.

The harmonic scalpel has generally been a welcome addition to the array of systems available to a surgeon in addressing the different medical conditions of a patient. It can provide a surgeon greater cutting precision; it also can allow a surgeon to cut through thicker tissues more efficiently. His or her visibility problems can be reduced due to less smoke emitted by the system while it operates. The surgical procedure is simplified with fewer instrument swaps, although a harmonic scalpel is not as easy to move as the Bovie — an apparatus used in electrosurgery for coagulation.


A patient who undergoes a procedure using the harmonic scalpel typically will experience less swelling, bleeding, and bruising that usually occur when a traditional scalpel is used. Blood vessels are also sealed at a temperature lower than what electrosurgery and laser surgery require, thus reducing damage to the lateral thermal tissues of the patient and the charring and extreme drying of the blood vessels. This usually results in shorter surgery times and recovery periods. Typically, a patient is able to return to his normal activities sooner, thereby effectively reducing his productivity and income opportunity losses that could result from a procedure.

The key to success of any procedure using the harmonic scalpel typically is the surgeon’s knowledge and experience with it. Surgeons usually need to take the initiative to extensively train on and gain mastery of this technology. They can attend lectures and demonstrations on the use of the harmonic scalpel. Some of these learning sessions and actual exposure to the harmonic scalpel are sponsored by its manufacturers.


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Post 2

I have this friend at work who got a face lift a year ago. She told me that they used this thing called a harmonic scalpel device to perform the operation.

Honestly until then, I had never heard of this device. When she explained how it worked it sounded like something out of a science fiction movie – like a laser device that could cut through tissue without leaving any bleeding behind.

She had taken two weeks off for the nip and tuck procedure and when she returned I couldn’t notice any markings anywhere on her body where the surgery had taken place. This device is that good, and from what she tells me, there is minimal pain as well.

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