What is Plastic Surgery?
When you hear the words “plastic surgeon,” you might call to mind actresses with outlandish body proportions or aging stars with surreal facial features. Plastic surgery to alter appearance is referred to as “aesthetic” or “cosmetic” surgery. As is the case with celebrities, cosmetic surgery is often performed to change the appearance of a feature that a patient has always disliked, or to prevent changes from happening due to aging. However, cosmetic surgery can also restore appearance after an injury or illness -- when a medical condition leaves a physical mark that makes a patient look different, it can be very upsetting. Cosmetic plastic surgery gives patients more control over how they look.
But plastic surgery is about much more than changing someone's appearance. Plastic surgery is also about changing the form and function of the body, and often that means restoring what has been lost to injury or illness. A body part can lose its ability to function (meaning, for example, to move, grip, protect underlying tissues, or feel sensation) to many causes. Some common ones are burns, infections, injuries (e.g. from car accidents), illnesses (such as cancer), problems present from birth (such as cleft palate), or even scar tissue from previous surgeries. When plastic surgery is used to repair a damaged part, it is called “reconstructive surgery.” Reconstructive procedures restore the abilities of the patient so that they can use their body in as normal and healthy a way as possible.
Plastic surgeons are experts at safely moving tissue from one part of the body to another, using microsurgery techniques to reconnect the tiny blood vessels and nerves. They use these skills not only to improve appearance (cosmetic surgery), but also to repair damaged body parts (reconstructive surgery).
What is Facial Plastic Surgery?
Facial plastic surgeons are physicians who provide surgical or medical treatment to change the appearance of the face, head, or neck. We communicate a great deal through tiny, natural movements of the face, so the work of a facial plastic surgeon requires an unusually high level of skill.
Facial plastic surgeons provide a number of treatment options, such as:
Cosmetic surgery, intended to enhance the appearance. These procedures are usually considered elective, although they can be psychologically very important to patients. Cosmetic procedures seek to increase physical beauty, and can include facelifts, liposuction, and nose jobs.
Reconstructive surgery, to correct the appearance. Often these procedures are considered medically necessary and treat patients who are experiencing negative effects due to an aspect of their appearance. Procedures that can be considered reconstructive may include the removal of birthmarks and scars, repairs after serious accidents, and the correction of problems such as cleft palate.
Medical treatments that do not involve surgery. This category of procedures includes Botox, wrinkle treatments, injectable fillers, or medical skin products.
Facial plastic surgeons may have trained as plastic surgeons first, but most physicians who specialize in facial plastic surgery actually begin as otolaryngologists, or ear, nose, and throat doctors. A large part of the training that all otolaryngologists receive in medical school involves surgery on the face, and facial plastic surgery is considered the largest subspecialty of otolaryngology.
The field of facial plastic surgery is changing rapidly, with new advances in the past few years, such as laser therapy, minimally invasive surgery, and microsurgery. Facial plastic surgeons are able to use this knowledge to help you feel confident about the face you present to the world.
Head and neck surgery is a subspecialty that provides advanced surgical care for the head, face, neck, and throat. Most head and neck surgeons begin their careers as otolaryngologists (ENTs) or plastic surgeons, but becoming certified as a head and neck surgeon requires additional training.
A surgeon who treats the head and neck has very specific considerations to take into account when operating. The delicate structures of the head and neck control our senses, our speech, our ability to chew and swallow food, and even our ability to breathe. A head and neck surgeon has to be careful to preserve the many functions of the head and neck when performing an operation. Also, when operating on or around the face, extreme care must be taken to leave as few scars as possible, since the face is a critical part of identity and social interaction. It all adds up to a tricky job.
Some of the issues a head and neck surgeon might treat include:
Trauma to the face or neck
Thyroid disorders requiring surgery
Tonsillectomies / adenoidectomies
Cleft palate repair
Disorders of the larynx (voice box)
Cancers, especially of the esophagus, mouth, lips, and skin around the face or throat, are one of the most common issues requiring head or neck surgery. Most often, head and neck cancers are related to tobacco use. Chewing tobacco in particular affects the lips and mouth. Other risk factors for head and neck cancers include alcohol use and sun exposure.
Often after surgery, but particularly after the removal of a tumor, head and neck surgeons will perform reconstructive surgery, including microvascular surgery to connect or replace skin tissue. The goal is to restore not only a patient’s function but also their appearance in this critical area of the body, improving self-esteem.
What is Hand Surgery?
Our hands are not only incredibly useful and important for our daily functioning, but they are complex and delicate parts of our body. It can take a specialist to keep the hands functioning at their best. Hand surgeons are general, plastic, or orthopedic surgeons who have received additional training specifically in the care of hands, wrists and forearms.
Surgery is not the only care that a hand surgeon provides. Hand surgeons might prescribe medications, physical therapy, or splints and braces as well as surgery, depending on the condition. They care for a wide variety of issues affecting the hand or forearm, which may include:
Carpal tunnel syndrome
Fingers that cannot be straightened, such as with Dupuytren’s contracture
Deformities of the fingers, such as syndactyly (webbed or fused fingers) or polydactyly (extra fingers)
Wrist or hand pain
Serious injuries of the hand or wrist, including burns and sports injuries
Reattachment of severed fingers or creation of prosthetics
We use our hands to interact with the world in a number of ways. In order to do so, we need our hands to maintain a high level of both movement and sensitivity, and that requires all of its bones, muscles, and nerves to be working properly. Hand surgeons keep this delicate and important equipment functioning.
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