The History of Plastic Surgery: Developments in Reconstructive Surgery Procedures

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As medical specialties go, plastic surgery is likely the most popular health and beauty trend, made known by media coverage and social media. For a long time, people have attributed plastic surgery to celebrity enhancements and the endless pursuit of achieving the perfect look. This resulted in many people confusing the terms cosmetic and plastic surgery, its types of procedures, from lip fillers, breast enhancement, rhinoplasty, and more. But in historical and medical contexts, the two differ greatly.

While general medical history began thousands of years ago, many think that plastic surgery is a fairly new medical procedure. In reality, the process of treating the aesthetics and functions of the human face has been around for centuries. Since the beginning, humans are actively involved in achieving self-improvement. That is why it should not be a surprise that this form of procedure is probably one of the oldest medical treatments.

If you’re wondering how plastic surgery began, here we will discuss the important milestones of plastic surgery throughout the years.

The early beginnings of reconstructive surgery

During 800 B.C., early physicians from ancient India relied on skin grafts in performing reconstructive surgery. In fact, plastic surgery is widely practiced in eastern medicine, with plenty of recorded incidents in history related to reconstructive surgeries and skin grafts. Meanwhile, western countries such as Europe were slow to catch up regarding advances in plastic surgery.

Over the next thousand years, medical advances in plastic surgery were very slow as western medicine subsequently adapted and refined India’s techniques for newer surgical applications. Progress finally came in when physicians from the Greco-Roman era found ancient texts about new surgical methods. They soon disseminated these texts throughout the Roman civilization.

One of these texts is De Medicine wrote by a practicing physician named Aulus Cornelius Celsus. The text laid out his newly discovered surgical methods related to ear, nose, and lip reconstruction. Later on, Oribasius from the Byzantine period compiled a medical encyclopedia called Synagogue Medicae, a 70-volume text containing passages about reconstructive procedures to fix facial defects.

Developments in reconstructive surgery

lip fillers

Although reconstructive surgery became widespread during the Middle Ages, the dawn of Christianity halted its further developments. The main reason is that religion and mysticism took over science. In fact, Pope Innocent III affirmed that any form of surgery in the human body is against the church law. As a result, the quest for scientific knowledge came to a standstill, replacing it with spiritual and personal concerns.

Another reason for the slow progression in medical development is the compromised safety of many surgical patients because of poor cleanliness and hygiene standards. But despite these hurdles, physicians were able to make discoveries, such as the surgical procedure of fixing a cleft lip.

By the early Renaissance, advances in surgery and medicine finally picked up their pace, resulting in safer and effective surgical techniques. In the 15th century, Serafeddin Sabuncuoglu produced an Islamic text titled Imperial Surgery, including 191 topics and materials about surgery, such as discussions about eyelid and maxillofacial surgery. One of its notable topics is the treatment protocol for gynecomastia, which many believed is the foundation of modern surgical practices on breast reduction.

The succeeding innovations in facial surgery arrived in the early 20th century when soldiers turned to plastic surgery to reconstruct the head and facial injuries caused by the war. These medical procedures led to more advances in plastic surgery.

Modern plastic surgery

Modern practices in plastic surgery began in the 1960s, marking the era as one of the significant moments in the medical world. One of them is the discovery of silicone, which soon became a staple substance for surgical procedures until today. By the 1980s, surgeons and advocates push their efforts to improve the perception and raise awareness towards plastic surgery as a surgical specialty. Along with the booming U.S. economy, plastic surgery became more accessible to its citizens.

Developments continued through the 1990s to the 21st century despite issues in healthcare reform. One of them is when insurance companies decreased the reimbursement for reconstructive surgery. This led plastic surgeons to focus on cosmetic surgery to continue their practice.

Today, modern plastic surgery trends have been receiving widespread acceptance as they slowly move towards non-invasive procedures. Amid current debates, people have become more educated about the rewards and risks of plastic surgery.

Cosmetic and functional plastic surgery procedures have continuously improved over many decades as surgeons worldwide perform millions of procedures every year. Today, patients can enjoy different treatments and are constantly discovering ways to improve their physical appearance.

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