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How Does Plastic Surgery Work? A Patient’s Guide

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More than 15 million cosmetic procedures are done in the United States every year. These include rhinoplasties, breast augmentations, laser hair removal, facelifts, and a whole host of other plastic surgery procedures. 

Yet, how does plastic surgery work? What is considered plastic surgery, and how can you prepare for your procedure?

It is normal to have questions about plastic surgery, especially if you are a new patient or are considering becoming one. Learning the facts can help lessen your worries and help you feel more prepared for both the procedure and the recovery process. 

Keep reading our guide below to learn the basic process of plastic surgery. 

How Does Plastic Surgery Work? 

Plastic surgery is the process of manipulating body tissue to repair or reconstruct parts of the body. You can get plastic surgery for cosmetic reasons or to treat an injury. 

There are different techniques involved with plastic surgery. Skin grafts were once the primary method used, but now tissue expansion and flap surgery are both commonly used as well. 

Let’s explore these techniques further. 

Skin Grafts

Skin grafts occur when healthy skin is removed from an unaffected part of the body. This healthy skin is then used to cover the affected part of the body, which is generally to replace lost or damaged skin. 

These are often used for bone fractures that break the skin, large wounds, or areas of the skin that need removing, such as from burns or cancer. 

The two main types of skin grafts are partial thickness and full thickness. Partial-thickness is when a very thin layer of skin is removed, usually from the buttocks or abdomen. This usually heals quickly and will only leave a faint scar. 

Full-thickness is when a thicker layer of skin is removed, usually involving both the top layers and layers underneath. This is generally done on the neck, behind the ear, or the upper arm. 

Full-thickness grafts occur when a thicker graft is needed, and the recovery process is more involved. 

Tissue Expansion

Tissue expansion occurs to help the body grow extra skin by stretching it around surrounding tissue, which is then used to reconstruct a nearby area. 

This is often done with breast reconstruction or to help replace skin that was lost due to more significant wounds. 

To do this procedure, an expander is inserted underneath the skin nearby the area that needs to be reconstructed. It will generally take three to four months for the skin to stretch sufficiently. 

Once the skin has stretched, another surgery will need to occur to remove the expander and move the newly stretched skin to the affected area. Because the blood supply is still connected to the skin, there is less chance that the repair will fail. 

Flap Surgery

Flap surgery is when a living piece of tissue and its blood vessels are transferred from one part of the body to another. This is often done for open fractures and breast reconstruction. 

Generally, the skin will remain partially attached to the skin, which creates a “flap.” The skin is then stitched over the affected area to help reconstruct it. 

There is also a “free flap” surgery, where the skin is completely removed from the body and replaced at a new site. Microsurgery is then conducted to add in the lost blood vessels.

Preparing for Plastic Surgery

Now that you know the basics of how plastic surgery works, you can begin preparing for your procedure to know what to expect. 

As there are many different types of plastic surgery, it is best to consult with your plastic surgeon to know exactly how to prepare. For instance, if you are getting a minor cosmetic surgery, your preparation will be much different than those going in for a more severe one. 

In general, to prepare, you want to make sure you ask your plastic surgeon any and all questions you may have about your procedure. If you have any hesitations or fears, your surgeon should know about them. 

Three weeks before surgery, you should stop smoking, drinking alcohol, sunbathing, and getting facials. About a week before surgery, you want to schedule everything out, so you know you’ll have time to recover.

Look at your appointments, ensure you have child and pet care, and schedule your rides to and from the hospital or outpatient center. 

Recovering From Plastic Surgery

Recovering from plastic surgery is similar to recovering from most other surgeries. It is highly recommended not to have anything important to do for the first 24 hours, as you will still be recovering from the anesthesia. 

Do not exert yourself for the first few days after your surgery, as this can increase bruising and swelling. Click here to learn more about reducing swelling after surgery

Make sure to get tons of rest. However, you do also want to move your legs and arms around a bit to improve your circulation and prevent blood clots. 

If possible, have someone there for you for at least two days post-op, as it is common to feel lightheaded when standing up and walking around. Be careful using the restroom or going downstairs.

You may be unable to shower or bathe for up to a week post-op, so be sure to plan for that ahead of time. 

Your Guide to Plastic Surgery

So, how does plastic surgery work? Now you know the basics and can feel more prepared for your procedure. 

Remember, consult with your plastic surgeon and allow them to answer all questions that you have. You should feel confident going into your surgery, and using this guide is a great starting place.

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