There are a number of ways scars are treated, but scars from burns require diverse methods. Skin grafts have long been a common treatment for burns, infection, and for cancer reconstruction, with the first graft in 1917. There are a number of positive considerations with a skin graft, but there are also downfalls.
A skin graft must be protected from trauma or heavy stretching for at least 2 to 3 weeks. You may need to wear a dressing for a couple of weeks depending on the location. Contingent on whether it is a split or full thickness graft, the final outcome might not be aesthetically satisfactory, plus there’s always a chance for infection and graft failure.
On the up side, though, it is known to reduce time spent in the hospital as well as the function of that area of the body. For many, any improvement in appearance is better than nothing.
But what other options are there? One method of treatment is called tissue expansion. The following post explains more:
Plastic Surgery for Burns and Other Wounds: Skin Grafts, Tissue Expansion, and More
Tissue expansion. Tissue expansion is a medical procedure that enables your body to “grow” extra skin for use in reconstructive procedures. This is accomplished by inserting an instrument known as a “balloon expander” under the skin near the area in need of repair. Over time, this balloon will be gradually filled with saline solution (salt water), slowly causing the skin to stretch and grow, much the same way a woman’s skin stretches during pregnancy.
Once enough extra skin has been grown, it is then used to correct or reconstruct a damaged body part. This procedure is especially common for breast reconstruction.
When there is trauma to an area, it can be difficult to find healthy tissue that is similar to the damaged area, leaving limited options. However, using tissue expansion allows you to “grow” tissue from the same area for a better match. This method works especially well for burns on the head, as you want to use skin that has the potential for hair growth.
This technique works really well for smaller burns but if the burn area is large, it is harder to find enough normal tissue that can be expanded and used. The experienced doctor in the following video provides more information on tissue expansion:
After the expander is placed under the skin, saline is injected into the area to stretch the skin. Most people experience only mild discomfort with the process, which can be managed with pain medication. The same goes for removal of the tissue expander.
Unfortunately, the process can take up to four months depending on how much skin is needed. If the area is in a noticeable spot, it can be uncomfortable in more ways than one.
Expansion does provide a much better tissue match than other methods. The next post discusses the best candidate for this procedure:
Tissue expansion candidates | American Society of Plastic Surgeons
Tissue expansion candidates
Almost anyone in need of additional skin can benefit from tissue expansion — from infants to elderly men and women.
- The procedure is used widely in breast reconstruction when there is not enough skin to accommodate a permanent implant to restore a woman’s natural appearance.
- It is also an option for repairing or replacing areas of the scalp, where hair growth makes it difficult to replace lost tissue with skin from other areas of the body.
- Tissue expansion generally produces excellent results when reconstructing some areas of the face and neck, the hands, arms, and legs.
- Expansion may be more difficult on the back, torso, or other areas where skin is thick. If the affected area is severely damaged or scarred, expansion is probably not an option since healthy skin is the first requirement.
Read the full post here: Tissue expansion candidates | American Society of Plastic Surgeons
Recovery time is contingent on several factors, such as the complexity of the surgery, but most patients are able to return to their normal activities within a couple weeks. Advancements in surgical techniques for improving burn scars are helping individuals feel better about their appearance and enhance their quality of life.