When people hear the term “plastic surgery,” their minds usually go to procedures like breast augmentation, facelifts, or tummy tucks, which fall under the category of cosmetic procedures. These are elective surgeries that individuals choose to help enhance their appearance and achieve their desired aesthetic look.
While there’s nothing wrong with seeking plastic surgery for purely cosmetic purposes, not all plastic surgery is about making voluntary changes to your appearance. There is another subspecialty of plastic surgery called reconstructive plastic surgery. Unlike cosmetic procedures, reconstructive surgery has a different focus—it aims to restore function, correct deformities, and improve the normal appearance of individuals affected by various medical conditions.
This article will discuss the differences between cosmetic and reconstructive plastic surgery. We’ll also explore the most common medical reasons why people undergo reconstructive procedures, the instances where these two fields of plastic surgery might overlap, the scenarios where insurance might cover plastic surgery, and the significance of selecting a skilled plastic surgeon for performing delicate reconstructive procedures.
Understanding the Difference Between Cosmetic Plastic Surgery and Reconstructive Plastic Surgery
Plastic surgery serves two primary purposes: addressing medical issues and enhancing appearance. There are two essential branches within this field: cosmetic surgery and reconstructive surgery. Although they share some core principles and often overlap, they have distinct goals and impacts on patients’ lives.
Let’s talk about their similarities first. Both cosmetic and reconstructive plastic surgery aim to achieve the best possible cosmetic outcome for patients. Whether addressing medical concerns through reconstructive procedures or enhancing appearance through cosmetic surgery, the focus is creating positive transformations that significantly improve people’s lives and self-esteem.
Now, let’s dive into their differences. The primary goal of reconstructive surgery is to restore normal function and appearance, making it more of a need than just a desire. Whether someone is born with a cleft palate, needs to remove skin cancer with minimal scarring, faces the aftermath of a burn or traumatic accident, battles the negative effects of skin left hanging after weight loss surgery, or wants to restore their femininity following a mastectomy, there is typically a medical need for this type of plastic surgery.
On the other hand, cosmetic surgery is elective and chosen by individuals who want to improve something about their looks. Examples of cosmetic plastic surgery might be breast surgery for lifted or larger breasts, a tummy tuck as part of a mommy makeover, a facelift for a more youthful appearance, or rhinoplasty to alter the size or shape of the nose for those who may feel self-conscious about it.
Although reconstructive and cosmetic surgeries serve different purposes, they can overlap and work together. For instance, reconstructive procedures consider aesthetics to achieve satisfactory outcomes, while cosmetic surgeries may also improve functionality for overall advantages.
Medical Reasons to Have Reconstructive Surgery
There are many medical reasons why someone would seek the pristine care of a plastic surgeon. Some of the most common medical reasons that may necessitate reconstructive surgery by a plastic surgeon include:
Birth Defects and Syndromes
Certain medical conditions and congenital anomalies can have a significant impact on an individual’s well-being. In such cases, the expertise of reconstructive surgeons may be necessary to address these concerns effectively.
Examples of such conditions include cleft palate and cleft lip, which can pose challenges in speech and eating functions. Reconstructive surgery can help correct such issues, enabling individuals to communicate and eat more efficiently.
Furthermore, craniofacial anomalies that affect the structure of the skull and face can also be addressed through reconstructive procedures. Plastic surgeons work diligently to restore normal appearance and function, providing individuals with enhanced self-confidence and a better quality of life.
Congenital hand deformities, such as malformed fingers or hands, are also within the scope of reconstructive surgery. Plastic surgeons can improve hand function and aesthetics, enabling individuals to perform daily tasks more comfortably and confidently.
Polydactyly (excess fingers and toes at birth) and syndactyly (fingers and toes that are webbed together) are other conditions that reconstructive surgery can effectively address.
Reconstructive surgeons specialize in trauma reconstruction, providing valuable support to individuals recovering from various injuries that can significantly affect their bone structure, skin, and underlying tissues.
One example is facial trauma or complex fractures resulting from accidents, such as motor vehicle crashes, sports-related incidents, or injuries caused by animal bites. The delicate nature of these injuries requires the precision and artistry of a plastic surgeon to meticulously restore normal appearance, functionality and minimize scarring.
Reconstructive surgery is also needed to correct brachial plexus injuries that cause functional impairments and sensory deficits in the arm. Reconstructive plastic surgeons can precisely repair damaged nerves and tissues. Restoring mobility, strength, and sensation and optimizing nerve regeneration allows patients to regain functional independence and improve their quality of life.
Another trauma example where plastic surgery is crucial is in cases of burns. Beyond the pain and trauma of the initial injury, burn survivors often face challenges in regaining both functionality and aesthetics. This is where the expertise of reconstructive plastic surgeons becomes crucial.
Reconstructive plastic surgeons possess specialized knowledge and skill and understand the importance of not only minimizing scarring but also restoring functionality to the affected areas.
By skillfully reconstructing and reshaping the skin, plastic surgeons aim to improve physical functionality and enhance the appearance of the burn-affected areas.
As a part of cancer treatment, some breast cancer patients may need to undergo mastectomy or lumpectomy procedures, which can lead to loss of breast tissue and shape. Deciding to get breast cancer reconstruction surgery after breast cancer to help restore the natural shape of their breasts is something many women choose to do.
For these patients, breast reconstruction surgery can be a significant milestone in their healing and recovery journey. This procedure can be done with or without breast implants and is intended to improve the body’s physical appearance while helping patients regain self-confidence and completeness.
Excessively Large Breasts
Having excessively large breasts can lead to many physical discomforts and limitations. Many individuals with disproportionately large breasts endure chronic back pain, shoulder grooving from bra straps, and skin irritation. The excess weight can even cause postural issues and hinder their ability to engage in physical activities comfortably.
Reconstructive breast reduction surgery offers a life-changing solution to address these challenges effectively. By skillfully reducing the breast size, the procedure not only alleviates physical discomforts but also improves posture, enabling individuals to lead a more active and pain-free lifestyle with enhanced mobility and comfort.
When someone goes through significant weight loss, either through their own efforts or after bariatric weight loss surgery, they may be left with loose and sagging skin. This extra skin can cause mobility issues, irritate the skin, and make them feel uncomfortable and self-conscious.
Through reconstructive procedures, plastic surgeons skillfully remove the excess skin, resulting in greater mobility, reduced discomfort, and the ability to fully embrace and enjoy the results of their weight loss journey.
As we age, the skin around our eyes can lose its elasticity, which can cause our eyelids to droop or sag. This is a common issue that leads many people to consider getting an eyelid lift for cosmetic reasons. However, for some people, the excess skin can droop so much that it obstructs their vision, making it difficult to read, drive, or see clearly.
In these cases, an eyelid lift that removes the excess skin, fat, and muscle from the upper eyelids (known as functional blepharoplasty) is not just a cosmetic surgery but a medical necessity.
Deviated Septum, Sleep Apnea and Nose Injuries
Rhinoplasty, commonly referred to as a “nose job,” offers more than just cosmetic enhancements. It serves as an effective solution for individuals facing specific medical conditions or trauma that affects their nasal function.
Reconstructive rhinoplasty is particularly beneficial for those with a deviated septum, sleep apnea, or injuries that have altered the nasal structure. Skillful reconstructive plastic surgeons address these medical concerns with precision, not only improving breathing function but also ensuring the aesthetics of the nose are maintained or enhanced.
When it comes to removing skin cancer and achieving the best possible outcomes, reconstructive plastic surgeons are the experts to turn to. Reconstructive surgeons possess the specialized skills needed to meticulously repair the surface of the skin after skin cancer removal.
Their expertise allows them to optimize functional outcomes while minimizing scarring. With their precision and attention to detail, reconstructive surgeons ensure that patients can move forward with confidence, knowing that their physical appearance will be minimally impacted by the removal of skin cancer.
Head and Neck Cancer
Head and neck cancers often require the removal of tumors and affected tissues, leading to significant cosmetic and functional deficits. Reconstructive surgery for head and neck cancer patients aims to restore appearance and function, helping them regain confidence and improve their ability to eat, speak, and breathe.
Limb salvage is a specialized approach performed by reconstructive surgeons to treat severe limb injuries or conditions that could lead to amputation. The primary goal of limb salvage surgery is to preserve the affected limb, restore function, and maintain mobility whenever possible.
Through innovative surgical techniques, skilled reconstructive surgeons assess the extent of the injury or condition and work to reconstruct blood vessels, remove damaged tissue, and restore bone structures. In cases where limb salvage is not possible, reconstructive surgeons, in collaboration with other medical experts, consider the best course of action, which may include amputation.
Individuals may also explore prosthetic solutions to regain function and mobility. At The Surgical Clinic, our TSC Prosthetics division offers a range of advanced prosthetic options, ensuring patients achieve pain-free and functional mobility. Whether through limb salvage surgery or prosthetic solutions, our goal is to work closely with patients to identify the most suitable options for their unique needs.
Chronic Hand and Wrist Conditions or Injuries
While traditional surgeons can address hand and wrist conditions, reconstructive plastic surgeons offer specialized advantages. They possess a deep understanding of both hand anatomy and aesthetics, ensuring comprehensive care for patients.
Reconstructive surgeons perform advanced techniques to restore hand function, such as microsurgery for intricate nerve problems. Moreover, they prioritize natural-looking outcomes, blending surgical interventions seamlessly with the patient’s hand structure.
Chronic Foot and Ankle Conditions or Injuries
The same goes for lower extremities, where skilled reconstructive surgeons provide effective solutions for chronic foot and ankle conditions. Issues like chronic ankle instability, Achilles tendonitis, degenerative joint diseases, and congenital foot deformities can significantly impact an individual’s ability to walk, move, and perform daily activities.
Plastic surgeons can repair damaged tissues, stabilize joints, and correct foot deformities to improve function and alleviate pain.
Complex wounds can result from various circumstances, such as traumatic injuries, severe infections, or medical conditions like diabetes. These wounds often require advanced wound care or reconstructive approaches to promote better healing and functional outcomes.
Reconstructive plastic surgeons have expertise that allows them to perform advanced procedures beyond basic wound closure. For instance, in deep lacerations involving damage to underlying tissues and structures, plastic surgeons can repair and reconstruct the affected area, ensuring proper alignment of tissues and minimizing scarring.
When dealing with non-healing wounds, plastic surgeons can utilize advanced wound care techniques, tissue grafting, or microsurgical procedures to encourage wound closure and stimulate tissue regeneration.
While people may not immediately associate lymphedema with plastic surgeons, reconstructive surgeons are vital in providing effective solutions for those living with this condition that results in compromised or damaged lymphatic systems.
Through advanced microsurgical procedures, reconstructive surgeons create connections between lymphatic vessels, redirecting the flow of lymph fluid and promoting better drainage. This surgical intervention significantly alleviates the symptoms of lymphedema, leading to improved quality of life, enhanced mobility, and reduced discomfort for patients dealing with chronic swelling.
What Type of Plastic Surgeon Performs Reconstructive Surgery?
Reconstructive surgery requires a deep understanding of both form and function, as well as aesthetics, distinguishing them from other medical practitioners who may offer cosmetic surgeries, such as a general surgeon, dermatologist, ear, nose, and throat surgeon, etc. who has decided they want to perform cosmetic procedures.
Only skilled, board-certified plastic surgeons with specialized training and experience in reconstructive procedures should perform reconstructive plastic surgery. By selecting a highly qualified plastic surgeon, patients needing reconstructive surgery can rest assured that they are in the hands of a compassionate expert who prioritizes their well-being and understands the delicate nature of these types of plastic surgery procedures.
At The Surgical Clinic, we take great pride in having a team of skilled general surgeons, specialty surgeons, and plastic surgeons who specialize in both cosmetic and reconstructive surgery who work together to provide full-spectrum care to those that need it.
Does Insurance Cover Reconstructive Plastic Surgery?
Whether insurance covers plastic surgery largely depends on two key factors: medical necessity and the individual’s insurance plan. Reconstructive plastic surgery is more likely to be covered by insurance if it is deemed medically necessary to restore function, correct a medical condition, or improve the patient’s quality of life.
On the other hand, cosmetic procedures that are performed solely for aesthetic purposes are considered elective and typically not covered by insurance. The distinction between reconstructive and cosmetic surgery can sometimes be complex, as certain procedures may serve both functional and aesthetic purposes.
For example, rhinoplasty (commonly known as a “nose job”) can be performed to enhance the appearance of the nose, but it may also be necessary to correct breathing difficulties caused by nasal abnormalities. In such cases, insurance coverage would depend on whether the primary purpose of the surgery is considered medical and if the patient’s insurance plan provides coverage for that specific condition.
The same can be said with breast reconstruction. Insurance often covers breast reconstruction surgery for breast cancer survivors who have undergone a mastectomy. Insurance might also cover breast reduction surgery if a person’s breasts are causing severe back pain or other physical discomforts. However, insurance will not cover breast augmentation for purely aesthetic reasons, nor will it cover breast reduction if someone simply wants to have their breast implants removed and is not experiencing any type of pain associated with having large breasts.
Eyelid surgery is another plastic surgery procedure that may have both functional and aesthetic benefits. If droopy eyelids obstruct a person’s vision, reconstructive eyelid surgery may be covered by insurance. However, if the primary purpose is to solely improve the appearance of the eyelids, it may not be covered.
It is important for patients to have a clear understanding of their insurance coverage and to explore potential financing options if their desired procedure is not covered. Patients should consult with their plastic surgeon and insurance provider to determine the coverage specific to their unique circumstances and medical conditions.
At The Surgical Clinic, we aim to provide you with a comprehensive understanding of these essential branches of plastic surgery, helping you make informed decisions about your healthcare and well-being.
Whether you’re considering a reconstructive procedure to address a medical condition or cosmetic surgery to enhance your appearance, we have a team of surgeons of various specialties, including plastic surgeons that specialize in both cosmetics and reconstruction, making us a one-stop-shop for individuals seeking a comprehensive approach to their medical and aesthetic needs. Our experienced board-certified surgeons at Garza Plastic Surgery and The Lett Center can help you with these various types of surgeries.