Reconstructive surgery is corrective surgery to repair the body due to birth defects, disease or trauma. It is usually performed for the purpose of returning function to the body, but can also be used to improve the appearance of a person, particularly in the case of trauma or birth defects.
Some examples of circumstances that would call for this type of surgery include the following:
- Repairing scar tissue from burns or other trauma
- Repairing a cleft palate or lip
- Reduction of breasts
- Reconstruction of breasts after a mastectomy
- Reconstruction of knees or elbows from sports injuries
- Reconstruction of facial features after trauma
- Reconstruction to correct overly large or deformed ears in children
- Reattachment of fingers or limbs
- Removal of tumors or skin cancers
- Repairing crushed bones
Reconstructive surgery differs from cosmetic surgery in that cosmetic surgery does not correct abnormalities. Even when elected for aesthetic reasons, a reconstructive operation is usually done to correct an abnormality.
One of the most pervasive uses of this type of surgery is in professional sports. Contact sports like football and soccer often result in many injuries that can only be effectively repaired through surgery. It can be required to repair injuries to the knees and shoulders, or for broken facial bones.
Repetitive motion in non-contact sports also takes its toll over time, however, as cartilage — a natural cushion between close-fitting bones in the knee, elbow and other joints — can wear thin from over use. A painful, chronic condition develops as bones begin to rub against one another. People who have developed chronic pain of this type will complain of a dull ache even when at rest. Often the only relief is pain medication or surgery. Even non-athletes can develop injuries of this nature.
An extreme use of reconstructive surgery is sexual reassignment. This is the last radical step in a long mandatory process for the patient, which involves months of pre-surgery preparation, working with a series of specialized medical professionals. Sexual reassignment surgery is a specialty that relatively few doctors perform.