Plastic surgery, the functional, structural, and aesthetic restoration of all manner of defects and deformities of the human body. The term plastic surgery stems from the Greek word plastikos, meaning “to mold” or “to form.” Modern plastic surgery has evolved along two broad themes: reconstruction of anatomic defects and aesthetic enhancement of normal form. The surgical principles of plastic surgery remain focused on preserving vascularity, replacing like tissue with like tissue, respecting anatomic zones, and fostering wound healing by minimizing tissue trauma. As a diverse surgical specialty, the discipline of plastic surgery not only interacts with other disciplines of medicine but also merges medical science with the art of physical restoration. It couples careful evaluation of defects with sophisticated arrangements of tissue to improve the uniformity and natural resemblance of repair. Innovative techniques used in plastic surgery are largely the result of the successful clinical application of advances in tissue engineering, nanotechnology, and gene therapy.
Early developments in plastic surgery
The modern definition of plastic surgery is rooted in ancient medicine. The Sanskrit text Sushruta-samhita, written about 600 bce by ancient Indian medical practitioner Sushruta, describes, with surprising modernity, a quintessential plastic surgical procedure: the reconstruction of mutilated noses using tissue bridged from the cheek. During the Renaissance, Italian surgeon Gaspare Tagliacozzi and French surgeon Ambroise Paré adopted these early procedures and kindled a modern fascination with the use of local and distant tissue to reconstruct complex wounds. In the 19th century German surgeon Karl Ferdinand von Gräfe first invoked the term plastic when describing creative reconstructions of the nose in his text Rhinoplastik (1818). In the United States the organizing bodies of plastic surgery were founded between the world wars, with the American Society of Plastic Surgeons established in 1931 and the American Board of Plastic Surgery established in 1937. In the 1960s and ’70s the pioneering work of Canadian-born American surgeon Harry J. Buncke, Japanese surgeon Susumu Tamai, and Austrian surgeon Hanno Millesi resulted in the integration of procedures and techniques that defined microsurgery (surgery on very small structures requiring the use of a microscope).
Aesthetic, or cosmetic, surgery entered into the public consciousness with the advent of refinements that rendered safe the rejuvenation of the face and body through procedures such as face-lifts, breast augmentation, and liposuction. This was coupled with an increasing emphasis on minimally invasive procedures, such as injections of botulinum toxin (Botox) and cosmetic soft-tissue fillers (e.g., collagen and hyaluronic acid).
The basic premise of soft tissue reconstruction is fixing deformities with normal tissue that shares similar characteristics with the damaged tissue. Respect for tissue physiology and mechanics is important in both reconstructive and aesthetic plastic surgery. Hence, delicate handling of tissue with instruments, judicious elevation of tissue to minimize vascular disruption, and precise alignment of tissue planes are all important elements of technique.