My Tissue Expander Which is Still Getting Expanded is Very Hard. How Can I Make It Softer?

I had my Mastectomy on 4/20. I am thin, about 114 I have about 420 cc so far in the expander and I had a single. I don't need chemo or radiation. My other breast isn't even an A cup so I am not a happy camper right now. The expander is rock hard. I tried to talk to the Dr. about it he fills it each week and he told me that I need to move it which I do and that as he fills it its going to get harder. Any advice? It keeps me up at night. Thanks!

Doctor Answers 7

Hard Tissue Expander

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Unfortunately, a tissue expander is a much harder device compared to a gel or saline implant.    As the expander is filled with fluid, the hardness will worsen.   I recommend physical therapy exercises to help prevent stiffness and muscle discomfort.     

The good news is that the hardness is temporary and will substantially improve when the expander is exchanged for a permanent implant.    Hang in there and keep in close contact with your board certified plastic surgeon.   

I wish you a safe and healthy recovery.

Houston Plastic Surgeon
4.8 out of 5 stars 95 reviews

Necessary and unpleasant interval to a final implant

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Tissue expansion is a means of generating sufficient skin by stretch to eventually cover an implant.  Unfortunately, the discomfort and firmness is a necessary and unpleasant preparatory step to make a sufficient pocket to ultimately hold the final implant.

Chen Lee, MD
Montreal Plastic Surgeon
5.0 out of 5 stars 21 reviews

Tissue expanders when full are always firm.

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Tissue expanders are made to be quite firm and as they fill, this can be very uncomfortable. The reason for this firmness is to generate the pressure necessary to allow for actual expansion of the skin. Unfortunately, the only reliable relief comes from removal of the expander and replacement with an implant. After the expansion fills have stopped, the soft tissues will relax a bit and won't feel as tight, however the firmness of the expander depends on its fill volume. Physical therapy can help if you are having difficulties with your arm or shoulder. The best news is that it is temporary!

David Bogue, MD
Boca Raton Plastic Surgeon
5.0 out of 5 stars 26 reviews

Hard expander

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The expander is a spacer. Its role is to create a space for the eventual implant. Sometimes I will what  2 weeks to see if I have some give in the tissues before filling it again. Range of motion is important because the pectoralis muscle covering the expander can be tight.  Not knowing if your expander is anchored makes it difficult to recommend massage to help soften the pocket up.  Because if it is anchored it is not going to move.  Time and stretching can help or if your happy with the shape and size maybe talk to your surgeon about being done and ready for an implant . 

Paul Albear, MD
Tampa Plastic Surgeon

Breast reconstruction

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I have yet to feel a "soft" expander no matter how much you massage it. Fortunately, you will probably have a soft permanent implant especially if you do not need any radiation.  If it is really painful then your surgeon may be able to take some of the fluid out until your skin relaxes a bit more and then you can resume after a couple of weeks with smaller amounts each time.  This takes longer but at least you would be able to get through the day- Hope that helps! 

Tissue expander is hard.

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It is perfectly normal for tissue expanders to be very hard durring expansion.  I have never felt a "soft" breast during this time.  Your skin is being streched tight over the expander adn will be hard.  This will not resolve until you have your permanent implants placed.

Sorry....but it will get much better once you expanders are changed to implants.

Gordon Lewis, MD
Midlothian Plastic Surgeon
4.8 out of 5 stars 23 reviews

Breast reconstruction

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It is normal for the expander to be hard and it does get harder with each expansion. You can not make it softer even with massage. I make sure my patients have pain medication if needed for any discomfort. Is is common to go beyond the size of the opposite breast because the implants do not stick out as far. Talk to your surgeon about your concerns and get a satisfactory explanation for the treatment plan.

These answers are for educational purposes and should not be relied upon as a substitute for medical advice you may receive from your physician. If you have a medical emergency, please call 911. These answers do not constitute or initiate a patient/doctor relationship.