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What is Tissue Expansion: Growing Extra Skin for Reconstruction

What is Tissue Expansion: Growing Extra Skin for ReconstructionAlthough tissue expansion is very common and frequently performed, most people don’t hear about it before they have to undergo some reconstructive surgical procedures. To help patients understand what tissue expansion is and prepare themselves for growing extra skin for reconstruction, we composed the following guide. Along with giving basic guidance on the topic, we also provide some information about the surgery itself and the recovery process. Dr. Finkel is a leading plastic surgeon in Phoenix who specializes in a number of different procedures including tissue expansion for breast reconstruction surgery. Contact her office today to set up a consultation!

What Types of Reconstructive Surgeries Require Tissue Expansion

Tissue expansion is a reconstructive surgical technique that allows for the body to grow extra skin for reconstruction. The procedure is performed for various reconstructive surgeries, but the most common one is breast reconstruction.

How does tissue expansion work? A surgeon inserts a silicone balloon expander under the skin near the area that needs to be repaired. The expander is then filled with saline or carbon dioxide over time, which enables the skin to stretch and grow. 

Mastectomy is one of the surgeries that require tissue expansion. After the breast removal, the damaged skin gets repaired with the use of tissue expanders. Along with this, the tissue expansion is used to restore skin damaged by congenital disorders, scars, some cosmetic procedures, and more. 

Tissue Expansion Benefits

Tissue expansion allows for the growth of new skin in different body areas. The procedure is usually applied to regions of the face, neck, arms, hands, and legs. In these areas, the skin is thin and able to stretch and grow easily. 

Unlike with skin flaps and skin grafts, tissue expansion brings fewer risks of side effects. Since the skin remains connected to the patient’s blood and nerve supply, it retains the same color, texture, and hair-bearing qualities. Because the skin is not moved from one area to another, the scars are also less visible. 

In the end, it’s important to mention that almost anyone who needs additional skin growth can benefit from tissue expansion. The procedure is simple and very safe for the patients. It often provides more benefits than traditional skin repair techniques because it allows for natural skin expansion. 

Tissue Expansion 

It’s important to remember that tissue expansion is not always recommended. In the areas such as the back and torso, the skin is thicker, and tissue expansion might not be very efficient. It’s also not recommended for body regions where the skin is severely damaged or scarred. 

When it comes to the drawbacks, skin expansion has a significant one – it takes quite some time for the new skin to grow. Depending on the area that is being reconstructed, the process can last for 3 or 4 months. Patients also need to visit the surgeon frequently, so he or she can fill the expander adequately. 

However, what drives people to explore other options is the discomfort that comes from wearing an expander. Depending on the treated area, the expansion balloon can be highly visible and inconvenient for the patients. 

Risks of Tissue Expansion Surgery

Tissue expansion is a highly beneficial procedure that can ensure incredible results for the patients. However, just like any other surgery, it can cause some complications. 

The biggest concern with the tissue expansion regards the implemented balloon. Although all the used expanders are tested for safety, leaks do occur occasionally. Most of the time, the body is able to absorb the saline, the solution used to fill the expander, without any issues. However, this is still a safety concern and requires removing the balloon and cleaning the tissue. 

Sometimes, the skin around the expander might get infected too. This usually happens in the first couple of weeks and is treated with proper medication. In more severe cases, the expander needs to be removed and inserted back in when the skin heals completely from the infection. 

It’s important to remember that doctors know what to do in these situations. If you notice inflammation in the treated area or any other persistent symptoms, don’t hesitate to consult your surgeon. He or she will prescribe the necessary medication or treat the issue in another way. 

Surgery and Recovery Process

Your surgeon will first determine whether you’re a good fit for the surgery. She or he will run the necessary tests to confirm your health and skin condition. Then, the surgeon will ask you about your expectations and tell you everything you need to know before tissue expansion

The preparation for the tissue expansion surgery is easy and your surgeon will give you all the necessary instructions. You might need to cut back on smoking for a couple of weeks because the habit might slow down healing. Following a particular diet regime might be necessary as well. 

Depending on the situation, your surgeon may begin tissue expansion right after the breast removal or other reconstructive surgery, or wait for the recovery process to finish. The surgery is typically performed with the use of local anesthesia and a sedative, but sometimes, a general anesthesia is used as well. 

The procedure lasts one to two hours depending on the area and size of the tissue expansion. A surgeon usually makes a small incision next to the particular area and inserts the expander. The expander has a tube with the valve located just beneath the skin surface, so a surgeon can gradually fill it with saline. 

Once your skin stretches enough, you will have a second surgery to remove the expander and insert the permanent implant. Again, depending on the treated area, you may feel a little pain and discomfort and require some time to recover. 

Both procedures can cause discomfort and pain but that shouldn’t last for very long. During the recovery process, you’ll be advised to take adequate medication, relax, and exercise if necessary. Overall, most patients are able to get back to their daily duties within a week after the second surgery. It’s just crucial to follow the surgeon’s recommendations. 

Tissue Expansion FAQ

Lastly, we answer some frequently asked questions about tissue expansion to keep you well-informed about the topic. Hopefully, we will help you decide whether this procedure is a good fit for you or not. 

How long does a tissue expansion take?

The surgery to insert the tissue expander and the one to replace it with the permanent implant both take about one to two hours. However, the process of growing new skin takes some time. Most patients have to wait for 3 to 4 months for full skin expansion, but that depends on the size of the treated area. 

Can a tissue expander get infected?

Yes, the skin around the tissue expander can get infected. Most of the time, it’s nothing serious and can be treated with proper medications. In some cases, however, the expander needs to be removed for the skin to heal. Only after several months, the procedure can be repeated, which can significantly extend the time necessary for the tissue expansion process to be completed. 

Do tissue expanders cause pain?

Tissue expanders can cause discomfort and pain right after the surgery. It’s because they are thicker and less flexible than implants, so most patients feel unnatural and bothered by their presence under the skin. The pain is similar to muscle spasms and cramps and usually goes away after 24 hours. Keep in mind, though, that every expander refill might cause similar pain and discomfort for several hours. 

Those who are doing tissue expansion for breast reconstruction should know that permanent implants are much more comfortable. They are softer and don’t cause any pain or discomfort.

What is Tissue Expansion: Growing Extra Skin for Reconstruction

It is important to know the process and purpose of tissue expansion if you are considering reconstructive surgery. The guide above gives readers an insight into the process of tissue expansion for certain reconstructive surgies. If you are located in the greater Phoenix region and are interested or in need of reconstructive surgery, contact Dr. Finkel today to schedule a consultation.