Tissue expansion is the stretching of soft tissues and skin and is usually performed before reconstructive surgery to replace injured, scarred, or damaged skin. It promotes the healthy growth of supplementary skin that replaces damaged skin. Continue reading to learn more about this highly effective procedure.
What Is Tissue Expansion Surgery?
Tissue expansion is a relatively simple procedure that allows the body to produce more skin to help repair damaged skin. A plastic surgeon inserts a balloon expander below the skin near the damaged site. They then gradually fill the expander with carbon dioxide or saline, making the skin stretch and grow.
Though tissue expansion is typically used in breast reconstruction surgery, it also repairs damaged skin caused by accidents, congenital disabilities, and complications from surgeries.
The Procedure of a Tissue Expansion Surgery
The tissue expansion procedure stretches the skin to allow the body’s tissue to replace or repair the skin that the surgeon will remove. The process consists of three main steps:
To stretch the skin, the surgeon makes a small incision and inserts the expander, a small balloon connected to a tube under the healthy skin. The expander is put close to the skin and eventually removed. A general or local anesthetic is often administered at this step.
Filling and Stretching
Once the initial incision heals, the patient goes to the surgeon weekly to add saline to the pouch. The expander usually has a port beneath the skin, making it necessary to numb the area before injecting saline into it. The skin will gradually stretch as the bag fills with more liquid during the weekly clinic visits.
The surgeon removes the expander when there is enough new skin, and they pull the new skin over the damaged area. Before the skin is ready for surgery, the expander may be placed for several months. The length of time required to stretch the skin will vary, depending on the following:
- The location of the expander on the body
- Amount of damaged skin that needs replacement
- How well the patient responds to the expansion process
In some cases, multiple procedures will be required when the damaged area is large or when the skin is difficult to stretch, for example, the scalp or lower leg.
The Benefits of Tissue Expansion Surgery
Tissue expansion improves the skin’s appearance with healthy skin that is both natural in color and texture, unlike with a flap or a skin graft. However, the process leaves three scars along the edges where the damaged skin is removed. In most cases, scarring is minimal and less noticeable than the damaged skin.
Unlike most reconstructive procedures, such as the skin graft or flap, the skin retains its blood and nerve supply, and the new skin is less likely to have side effects, including skin death.
Tissue expansion promotes the growth of new skin, improving its appearance following reconstructive surgery. When your doctor recommends tissue expansion, they will guide you through every step of the process so that you get the best results. Do not hesitate to ask your surgeon if you have any questions about the procedure.