Tissue Expansion Surgery

Dedicated to providing advanced care for patients with scarred or damaged skin

Tissue Expansion is a procedure performed to promote the growth of healthy supplementary skin used for the replacement of damaged skin. The University of Michigan is a nationally recognized leader in reconstructive surgery.  Our team of plastic surgeons and medical specialists guide patients through every step of the tissue expansion process to ensure the best results possible.

What is tissue expansion surgery?

Tissue Expansion is a procedure performed to promote the growth of healthy supplementary skin used for the replacement of damaged skin. This reconstructive procedure is an option for almost any area of the body, allowing plastic surgeons to repair skin damaged by both congenital and acquired defects.

Tissue Expansion is most often used for breast reconstruction, a procedured following breast removal, and for repairing damaged or scarring of the skin due to birth defects or trauma. Often, tissue expansion is done before reconstructive burn surgery, using the new skin to replace scar tissue at the burn injury site.

How is the procedure performed?

Tissue expansion is accomplished by placing a balloon like expander underneath the skin near the damaged region. Over time, the expander is filled with saline (or saltwater) solution causing the skin around it to stretch and grow. Once the new skin has reached its ideal size the tissue expander is removed and the new skin is redistributed, replacing the damaged area of skin.

When is tissue expansion recommended? What are the benefits?

Tissue expansion to regions of the face, neck, arms, hands, and legs normally lead to excellent results. When skin thickness is greater, like on the back and torso, expansion is more difficult. Since healthy skin is the primary requirement, expansion is usually not an option for areas where the skin is severely damaged or scarred. Your surgeon will discuss your options with you.

Tissue expansion allows for the growth of new skin. Without tissue expansion, other procedures are performed to use existing skin in other parts of the body for reconstruction. Using tissue expansion instead of existing skin, like flaps or skin grafts, usually leads to better outcomes. Since the skin remains connected to the same blood and nerve supply, unlike in most skin flap or skin graft procedures, there is less of a risk for the new skin to have side effects, including skin death. The grown skin is a better match cosmetically, having the same color, texture and hair qualities as the issue area. Scars are also often less visible because skin doesn't have to be moved from one area to another.

If you need tissue expansion surgery

You and your surgeon will reach an understanding about what you can expect from this procedure and the long-term benefits you will experience. Every patient is different, and your surgeon will choose the surgical technique and treatment plan that is right for you. During the initial consultation, you should expect to provide a complete medical history and have measurements and photographs taken for your medical record. Your surgeon will conduct a complete physical examination and discuss possible risks and complications of the procedure.

If you choose to have surgery at U of M, you will be given a pre-operative information packet that explains everything you should do and know before your surgery date. Your surgeon will give you specific instructions on how to prepare for surgery, including guidelines on eating and drinking, smoking, and taking or avoiding certain vitamins and medications. Your procedure will take place at the University of Michigan Hospitals, which provides state-of-the-art surgical suites and recovery areas. The majority of these procedures do not require an overnight stay in the hospital.

Make an Appointment

To schedule a consultation with a plastic surgeon, call 734-998-6022.