Tissue Expansion

Tissue expansion is a procedure that plastic surgeons perform for patients who lack sufficient tissue for their reconstructive procedure. Dr. Hunsicker and Dr. Nguyen can perform tissue expansion as part of a variety of reconstructive procedures at our South Denver plastic surgery practice. Tissue expansion techniques are not often performed independently of another reconstructive procedure, as the goal of tissue expansion is to create excess tissue to cover or recreate a part of the body. Tissue expansion is frequently used in procedures like:

  • Breast reconstruction after mastectomy surgery
  • Repair of birth defects
  • Repair of injuries or trauma

If you are to undergo a reconstructive procedure, but lack the amount of extra skin necessary, Dr. Hunsicker and Dr. Nguyen may use this procedure to create new skin and stretch your existing tissue. In order to undergo this procedure, you should be a healthy non-smoker, as this will aid in proper tissue expansion and improve skin elasticity. It’s important to understand that tissue expansion usually requires several procedures, not just one.

Techniques In Tissue Expansion

For your initial tissue expansion procedure, you will be placed under IV sedation or a general anesthetic for one to two hours. In this procedure, our surgeon will place the balloon expander beneath the tissue that is to be stretched. After the appropriate location for the expander has been selected, Dr. Hunsicker and Dr. Nguyen will make incisions and create a pocket for the expander below the skin. This expander, made of silicone, will then be gradually filled with saline, which will stretch the overlying skin. Dr. Hunsicker or Dr. Nguyen will then close the incisions, leaving the expander and the fill valve beneath your skin.


Over a period of a few weeks, you will return to the office, where Dr. Hunsicker and Dr. Nguyen will perform follow-up procedures, further filling the expander with saline until the skin is adequately stretched. Once this has happened, you will be able to proceed to a second surgery which will replace the saline-filled tissue expander with a permanent implant.

After the expander is placed under your skin and it has been filled with saline, you are likely to experience discomfort and a tightening of the skin for a couple of hours up to several days. You should, however, be able to resume your routine two to four days after insertion of the expander.

The concept of tissue expansion is somewhat like pregnancy. A pregnant woman's abdomen stretches as her fetus grows. The difference between tissue expanders and pregnancy is that, with a tissue expander, the stretching of the tissue in the target area occurs in shorter, more significant bursts.

Tissue expanders are filled with saline bit by bit. This process begins about two weeks after the empty expanders are inserted. Filling takes place in the office. It takes just a few minutes for the doctor to carefully inject the saline into the port that is attached to the expander or expanders. It's not uncommon for the area to feel tight, sore, achy, or tender for a day or two after the expanders are filled to their next level of volume. The doctor can discuss how to properly manage these temporary pains.

Dr. Hunsicker or Dr. Nguyen will discuss the overall treatment plan during your consultation. The duration of tissue expansion can vary from one person to another and may be affected by a number of different factors. One of our pre-treatment goals is to ensure that you are fully informed and know what to expect as you move through this progressive treatment. Generally, tissue expanders are increased via saline injections about every one to two weeks. This process continues until the desired degree of stretching has been achieved. If you receive tissue expanders as a part of breast reconstruction, what we're aiming for is your desired breast fullness. In all, the entire process may take one to three months.

Because tissue expanders are temporary and filled with saline, you might worry that your normal way of living may be impacted by these devices. You may be surprised to learn that you can continue many of your usual activities shortly after receiving your tissue expanders. You will have minor activity restrictions based on the area in which your expanders have been placed. That said, we anticipate that you should be able to start walking within a day or two of your initial procedure. Walking and light physical activity are important to your recovery, so don't avoid moving as you feel comfortable.

While you have tissue expanders, your doctor may advise against:

  • Jogging
  • High-impact aerobics
  • Weight lifting
  • Swimming

Scarring is an unavoidable aspect of any surgery. Our skilled surgeons are mindful of the areas in which incisions are made, the length of incisions, and all other details that support your optimal surgical outcome. It is thought that, of all available reconstructive options, tissue expansion tends to incur the least amount of scarring. Once you've completed your treatment, your doctor may discuss ways in which you can help your scars fade as they mature over time.

Learn More About Tissue Expansion In South Denver

Dr. Lisa M. Hunsicker has been practicing medicine since 1995. Since 2001, Revalla Plastic Surgery of South Denver has been providing patients with excellent, individualized cosmetic surgery results. We encourage you to call us for a personal consultation with Dr. Hunsicker. Contact us at 720.283.2500 or online to schedule a consultation with Dr. Hunsicker. Together, you can determine if you are a good candidate for tissue expansion.

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What to expect during your consultation…

1. Get to know Dr. Hunsicker and Dr. Nguyen.

2. Discuss your unique goals and concerns.

3. Learn about our services and specialties.

“My Experience has been amazing. Dr. Hunsicker is kind, caring and knowledgeable. I had an abdominoplasty and am thrilled with the results. The post-op care was phenomenal as well. Enjoyable experience.”


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