The Difference Between a Plastic Surgeon and an Orthopedic Surgeon

Plastic surgeons and orthopedic surgeons are both highly trained medical professionals who treat patients that are referred to them, and they evaluate and diagnose their medical condition that requires surgery. Each is a surgical subfield and both can be pursued as a general or specialized practice.

Plastic surgeons like Rimma Finkel MD are involved in cosmetic or reconstructive procedures, while orthopedic surgeons treat patients with musculoskeletal trauma such as spinal disorders or sports injuries. All surgeons share relative training requirements and some of the same general duties. The type of surgery they perform and other treatments they may use can vary based on their field of specialty. For example, as a plastic surgeon, there are five main areas you can specialize in:

  • Trauma and burns
  • Cancer (skin, head, neck, sarcoma, and breast)
  • Congenital deformities
  • Tissue degenerative conditions requiring reconstruction
  • Normalization and improvement of the appearance

Among the most common subspecialties for an orthopedic surgeon are:

  • Foot and ankle surgery
  • Hand and upper extremity
  • Orthopedic oncology
  • Orthopedic trauma
  • Pediatric orthopedics
  • Shoulder and elbow
  • Spine Surgery
  • Surgical sports medicine
  • Total joint reconstruction

Plastic Surgeon: Reconstructive

Life as a plastic surgeon isn’t always enhancing one’s appearance with lip injections and facelifts, although each is common and an important procedure, there are numerous responsibilities a plastic surgeon does that could be of importance for you and your body.

Reconstructive Surgery

Reconstructive surgery is all about repairing and restoring function. It is performed to repair and reshape bodily structures affected by birth defects, developmental abnormalities, trauma/injuries, infections, tumors, and disease.

Breast Reconstructive Surgery

Following a mastectomy or injury, one has the option to undergo breast reconstructive surgery. In order to rebuild the breast, plastic surgeons utilize several plastic surgery techniques to ultimately restore the breast to near normal shape, appearance, and size to give you back what you’ve lost.

Two reconstructive techniques are implant expanders and flap construction.

  • Implant expanders are tissue expanders that are placed under the pectoral muscle. Saline is then injected into the expander until the tissue has stretched and sufficiently reached an acceptable size, sometimes taking months to achieve. Nipple reconstruction follows this procedure.
  • Flap construction calls for tissue from other parts of the body such as back, buttocks, thigh, or abdomen and relocates it to create a new breast mound. Most often the tissue is taken from your abdomen or back. Similar to flap construction is Fat Grafting, which is the transfer of fat cells from one part of the body to improve the appearance and feel of another area. Often done on the face, hips, buttocks, and breasts during reconstruction.

Typically following breast reconstructive surgery is nipple reconstruction, and is often done as an outpatient procedure. Your plastic surgeon will offer you a few options when it comes to creating the nipple areola and it’s entirely dependent on what works best for you.

Burn Reconstructive Surgery

Surgery will not be able to remove a patient’s burn scars entirely but will help improve basic functions and make scars less noticeable. While scarring can limit the normal motion of the neck, shoulder, hands, or legs, surgery often helps to release this contracture and can help a patient regain range of motion. Facial scarring that leads to problems with the eyelids, lips, nose, or hair loss can also be helped with reconstructive burn surgery. Scars that are abnormally thick, wide, or discolored might also be improved by a variety of operative and non-operative methods.

Moh’s Reconstruction

Skin Cancer Excision and Reconstruction (Moh’s) are for non-melanoma skin cancer and actinic keratosis. During the procedure, the tumor is cut from the skin in thin layers. The layers of the tumor are then viewed through a microscope to check for cancer cells, continually being removed until no more cancer cells are seen.

Aesthetic Surgery

Aesthetic surgery (cosmetic plastic surgery) includes surgical and nonsurgical procedures that enhance and reshape structures of the body to improve appearance and confidence.

Cosmetic Surgery For Face

  • Blepharoplasty (Eyelid Surgery): As you age, your eyelids stretch, and the muscles supporting them weaken. As a result, excess fat may gather above and below your eyelids, causing sagging eyebrows, droopy upper lids, and bags under your eyes. This surgery works to improve vision as well as correct unwanted puffy undereye bags.
  • Brow Lift: By raising the soft tissue and skin of the forehead and brow, this cosmetic surgery improves the appearance of the forehead, the brow and the area around the eyes. Also known as forehead rejuvenation.
  • Face Lift (Rhytidectomy): This cosmetic procedure can reduce the sagging or folds of skin on the cheeks and jawline and other changes in the shape of your face that occur with age, that may give off the appearance of having a double chin, even though they are of normal weight.
  • Nose Surgery (Rhinoplasty): If you have an interest in change your nose’s shape and appearance, schedule an appointment with your trusted surgeon today. This surgery can be done for cosmetic reasons, as well as to improve function, or correct disfigurement resulting from trauma or birth defects.

Cosmetic Surgery For Breasts

  • Breast Augmentation (Mammoplasty): Breast Augmentation surgery is the placement of breast implants to increase fullness and improve the symmetry of the breasts. This procedure may also be done as part of breast reconstruction.
  • Breast Lift (Mastopexy): Excess skin is removed and breast tissue is reshaped to raise the breasts.
  • Breast Reductions (Mammoplasty): Breast reduction surgery is a procedure used to remove excess fat, tissue, and skin from the breasts.

Cosmetic Surgery For the Body

  • Body Lift: The excess fat and sagging skin of the abdomen and back, and sagging skin of the legs and buttocks is removed to create a more natural youthful shape.
  • Body Contouring: The shape and tone of the underlying tissues that support fat and skin and excess sagging fat can be removed to shape your body.
  • Liposuction (Suction-Assisted Lipectomy): This procedure is often used on the abdomen, thighs, buttocks, neck, chin, upper and backs of the arms, calves, and back, that uses an instrument called a cannula, sucking and breaking up the fat.
  • Lower Body Lift (Belt Lipectomy): In this procedure, skin, excess tissue and fat from the lower part of the body are removed. This is often done after extreme weight loss to tighten and firm the tummy, buttocks, and thighs.
  • Mommy Makeover: A Mommy Makeover is usually a post-pregnancy procedure that includes breast augmentation, breast lift, and liposuction to return the body back to its pre-pregnancy shape and youthful look.
  • Thigh Lift (Medial or Lateral Lift): This improves the appearance of the thigh by removing excess fat, tissue, and skin from the inner and outer thighs.
  • Tummy Tuck (Abdominoplasty): Here, the excess fat from the middle and lower abdomen is removed. The muscles of the abdominal wall are tightened resulting in a dramatically reduced bulging abdomen.


Cosmetic facial fillers are a completely safe, less invasive alternative of plastic surgery. They stimulate the body’s natural production of collagen to give a youthful appearance, although not permanent.

  • Botox: It can be used to treat severe brow furrowing, uncontrolled blinking, lazy eye, wrinkles, and facial creases.
  • Juvederm: This option is often used to soften the deep folds around the mouth to which many refer as “smile lines” and to reduce wrinkles around the face. It is also used for lip augmentation, plumping sagging hands and lifting cheeks.
  • Radiesse: Radiesse has the unique ability to both immediately restore lost volume and stimulate the body to produce its own natural collagen for long-lasting results. It is often used to restore fullness around the mouth, cheeks, and jawline.
  • Restylane: This filler works to smooth away wrinkles, enhance facial contours, create fuller lips, and rejuvenate skin.

Always be sure to speak with your plastic surgeon to discuss which option, whether it be more invasive and permanent to noninvasive and temporary, will work best for you and your body.

Orthopedic Surgeon: Foot & Ankle Subspecialty

An orthopedic surgeon is a specialized care provider who focuses on diagnosing and treating foot and ankle injuries and conditions related to the musculoskeletal system. While many physicians are familiar with the foot, a foot doctor’s entire time and energy are focused on the 26 bones, 33 joints, and over 100 ligaments, tendons, and muscles. If you have a health complaint or suffered an injury, your doctor may refer you to an orthopedic surgeon so you can get more specialized care.

Achilles Tendon Reconstruction

Your Achilles tendon is the largest tendon in your body. It’s a strong, fibrous cord in your lower leg that helps you to run, jump, and walk. In some cases, your Achilles tendon can tear or rupture due to a strong force, for example, by suddenly pivoting your foot.

Another cause for the consideration of Achilles tendon reconstruction is tendinitis or the degeneration of the Achilles tendon. Each has a high chance to cause pain and stiffness and can be relieved with reconstructive surgery, although speaking with your trusted orthopedic surgeon will give you the best direction.


Joint surgery can offer several benefits, and relief of pain is the most important benefit of joint surgery. Many people with arthritis have constant pain. Some of this pain can be relieved by rest, heat and cold treatments, exercise, splints, and medication, but when these therapies don’t lessen the pain, surgery may be considered.


Arthroscopy allows the surgeon to see inside your joint without making a large incision. Surgeons can even repair some types of joint damage during arthroscopy, with pencil-thin surgical instruments inserted through additional small incisions. Doctors use arthroscopy to help diagnose and treat a variety of joint conditions, most commonly those affecting the:

  • Knee
  • Shoulder
  • Elbow
  • Ankle
  • Hip
  • Wrist

Diabetic Foot & Ankle Problems

Living with diabetes does not mean having to live with frequent foot and ankle pain. This often happens because of poor circulation and nerve damage, ultimately dulling pain and awareness and causing further severe injuries. Whether it be therapy or surgery, your specialized orthopedic surgeon can help to guide you in the direction best for you and your body.

Foot & Ankle Problems, Trauma, and Reconstruction

No matter what you call it, the goal is the same – to help your foot function better and better, and sometimes the best way to overcome chronic pain or correct a structural problem is with reconstructive surgery. The procedure utilizes both open arthrotomy and arthroscopy. In some cases, ankle surgery may require the use of hardware, such as pins, to secure the ankle and reestablish stability.

It’s not surprising a joint, such as the ankle, that endures daily stress can get to this point. The good news is that in most cases, stability to the foot and ankle are able to be restored in most individuals through surgical means.

The Difference Between a Plastic Surgeon and an Orthopedic Surgeon

Each specialty can dramatically improve an individual’s day to day life by providing a happy, healthy lifestyle. Although similar in a lot of ways, the difference between a plastic surgeon and an orthopedic surgeon is that plastic surgeons are involved in cosmetic or reconstructive procedures, while orthopedic surgeons treat patients with musculoskeletal issues such as spinal deformities or sprains.