The Origin of Plastic Surgery and How it has Changed

The practice of reshaping body tissues for reconstructive or aesthetic purposes, plastic surgery, has been around for centuries and is not a new phenomenon. Perhaps since the beginning of time, human have been actively engaging in the pursuit of self-improvement. The first documentation of this type of surgery dates back to around 4000 years ago in Ancient Egypt. The term plastic surgery was created in 1798 by Pierre Desault as a name for procedures to repair facial deformities. The term was derived from the Greek word “plastikos” which means “fit for molding.”

According to Thomas V. DiBacco’s article published in 1994 in the Washington Post, the Egyptians used reeds to keep the nostrils open as the nose healed after reconstruction surgery. The first medical manual, Aulus Cornelius Celsus’ manual, De Medicina was written between 323 B.C. and 27 B.C., which covered repairing the lips, nose and ears.

The Indian doctor Acharya Sushrut in 600 B.C. published a collection of medical texts in the field, the Sushruta Samhita. Indian physicians were using grafts for surgery to repair damage to the face and other parts of the body as early as 800 B.C. Although it was the Indians who modernized the art of this field, it was the Greeks who gave us most of our early knowledge on plastic surgery.

As with most form of medicine, for hundreds of years the progress in plastic surgery slowed, as the techniques used in India were being refined and used in the western world. It wasn’t until the 19th century that the field made great improvements both scientifically and medically. In 1827, the American plastic surgeon Dr. John Peter Mettauer, performed the first operation to correct a cleft palate. He even had to design his own instruments.


Plastic Surgery and The War

During World War I, significant growth and innovation took place, as surgeons were presented with new challenges and gruesome injuries in the field of reconstructive surgery. Sir Harold Delf Gillies, a New Zealand otolaryngologist, developed many of the modern techniques for facial surgery, as the need for reconstructions and innovations were higher than ever. Sir Gillies techniques were used on victims with disfiguring facial injuries primarily from gunshot wounds.

In 1931 the American Association of Plastic Surgery was created by surgeons from World War I. During the Second World War, Archibald Hector McIndoe revolutionized the field of plastic surgery when he expanded treatment procedures to treat burn and blast victims.

In 1946 an important step was made with the publishing of the Journal of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery. This progress helped to set the foundation for modern plastic surgery as surgeons had an outlet to share their ideas and techniques.


Modern Day Plastic Surgery

Fast forward to today, despite its rocky historical past, plastic surgery is far removed from its humble origins and is a growing multi-billion dollar industry. Plastic surgery is now commercially available, and is no longer being used just for injuries. The field has expanded to encompass a range of elective surgeries including, breast augmentation, rhinoplasty and liposuction, which accounts for majority of the surgeries that are performed annually. Technology has also changed drastically, which has helped to expand the horizons of plastic surgery and continues to be a game changer in this rapidly-growing field.

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