Plastic Surgery vs. Reconstructive Surgery

beautiful woman face in profile

The terms “plastic surgery” and “reconstructive surgery” are bandied about so much that people often confuse them. While both involve the improvement of your appearance, distinct differences can be found.

Similarities Between Plastic Surgery and Reconstructive Surgery

Both plastic surgery and reconstructive surgery are designed to improve the appearance of the patient. This can be done through lifts, tucks, reshaping, and so on. The correct usage of the terms, however, is dependent upon the underlying reason for the surgical procedure.

Differences Between Plastic Surgery and Reconstructive Surgery

Plastic Surgery

Plastic surgery is an elective surgery. In its most basic form, plastic surgery takes a normal part of the body or face and improves it in a manner desired by the patient. Common plastic surgery procedures include liposuction, breast enhancement or reduction, nose reshaping, reshaping of the abdomen and the common and popular facelift. All of these surgeries are based purely on a voluntary desire to improve one’s appearance.

[Related: Popular Cosmetic Surgery Procedures]

Reconstructive Surgery

Reconstructive surgery is often elective, but can also be medically necessary. Reconstructive surgery differs from plastic surgery in one significant way. It is focused on making improvements to a damaged or abnormal part of the body. For example, a person may suffer damage from trauma or disease that leaves a part of their body looking abnormal and functionally deficient, such as breaking facial bones in an automobile accident. The patient can undergo reconstructive surgery to repair the facial structure so that it both performs and appears normally. While appearance is important, most reconstructive surgery focuses on functionality first.

When the Line Between Plastic Surgery and Reconstructive Surgery Blurs 

The differences between plastic and reconstructive surgery often blur as well. Breast enhancement or reduction surgery is a form of plastic surgery. Repairing breasts after the all-too-common complications of breast cancer is considered reconstructive surgery. Repairing the septum of the nose is considered reconstructive surgery, but simply reshaping the nose is considered plastic surgery. This blurred line is repeated in other areas as well.

Ultimately the dividing line between reconstructive surgery and plastic surgery is mostly an academic debate and varies greatly based on specific circumstances. Regardless, it is important to understand that there is a distinction.