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Reconstructive Microsurgery

Microsurgery is a type of surgery that involves transplanting a patient's own tissue — sometimes skin, fat, muscle or bone — to rebuild another part of the body. This is most commonly needed when areas of tissue have been injured or removed during surgery, often after trauma or cancer treatment.

This type of procedure is called microsurgery because it is performed on a tiny scale with the aid of magnifying tools. It often involves reconnecting blood vessels that are only a few millimeters wide.

Microsurgery can be done in any part of the body. It can be used to:

  • Reconstruct parts of the body (such as the breast or the face) after cancer surgery
  • Repair nerves
  • Repair blood vessels
  • Reattach amputated body parts (replantation)
  • Manage complex infections of soft tissue and bones

At UC San Diego Health, we use microsurgery to treat patients with a variety of conditions, including:

  • Breast cancer – after a mastectomy, tissue from the belly or other areas can be used to reconstruct the breast using a free flap procedure
  • Lymphedema – to reroute the lymphatic system when lymph nodes are affected by surgery, radiation, infection or trauma. We are one of only a few medical centers to offer a procedure to prevent lymphedema at the same time the lymph nodes are removed and tested for cancer
  • Head and neck cancers – transplanting tissue using microvascular free flaps to restore function and appearance
  • Facial nerve paralysis – to restore nerve function through nerve and muscle transfer
  • Muscular and skeletal (orthopedic) conditions – to save limbs that would otherwise be amputated or lack function

Microsurgery Recovery

When needed, microsurgery patients have access to specialized recovery units at Jacobs Medical Center in La Jolla and UC San Diego Medical Center in Hillcrest. Care is provided by a sub-specialty trained group of nurses who closely and continuously monitor tissue reconstruction, as well as overall well-being.

The team also includes anesthesiology pain management experts who have specialized training to prevent pain, both before and after surgery. These types of pain management regimens have been shown to decrease pain, shorten hospital stays, and reduce the need for opioid pain medication.

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