If you channel surf your television set for more than a few hours, it’s more than likely you’ll come across one of the many shows about people undergoing cosmetic surgery. According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, more than 11 million cosmetic surgeries were performed in 2006. These are actual surgeries, and do not include cosmetic procedures, such as wrinkle-filling injections.
Less often, reconstructive surgery is portrayed or discussed. But, in 2006, more than 5.2 million people received reconstructive surgery too. This type of surgery, in general terms, is to repair damaged or malformed tissues, organs or bones.
Sometimes, the two are hard to separate. For instance, if a person has gone through a traumatic situation, he or she might opt to have both reconstructive and cosmetic surgery at the same time. For example, if a man has broken bones in his face and body in a motorcycle accident: an orthopedic and plastic surgeon will likely fix all the structural damage on his body so all the parts can perform their regular tasks.
Taking this example further, the man’s eyes, nose and shoulder may work well again, but they may not look the same. Say there are burn marks on his shoulder, and his eyes are slightly pushed aside. He may opt for refinement of these issues by a plastic surgeon so as to appear more like they did before the accident. Thus, reconstructive and cosmetic surgeries sometimes work in tandem.
Generally, both types of surgeries are designed to better one’s appearance. Procedures done in both cosmetic and reconstructive surgeries include cutting, lifting, tucks and reshaping.
Reconstructive surgery can also be elective, but it’s mostly done out of medical necessity. Its purpose is to “fix” or make improvements to a diseased, damaged or abnormal part of the body. For example, reconstructive surgery would have been the procedure that would have repaired any broken bones on the motorcycle accident victim above. In other words, it focuses on function first, appearance second.
But, as the motorcycle example above shows, the reasons for each type are different and thus the different names for them. Plastic or cosmetic surgery is elective. Whatever is done to improve the patient’s appearance is dependent upon a look that is desired by the patient, and enhances an already existing, “normal” part of the body. For example, liposuction, tummy tucks, reshaping the nose, and of course, the face lift among other cosmetic procedures. All of these surgeries are done because the patient desires to improve his or her appearance whether they submit themselves under a knife or opt for cosmetic laser surgery.