Injury - Bernstein Medical - Center for Hair Restoration
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Q: I am considering having an FUE procedure and have heard the phrases topping, capping, and tethering as part of the procedure. What do all these terms mean? — C.C., Hell’s Kitchen, N.Y.

A: These are all terms that refer to the types of injury that can occur to grafts during a follicular unit extraction procedure.

In FUE, a sharp instrument (or sharp instrument followed by a blunt one) is used to separate follicular units from the surrounding donor tissue. Forceps are then used to remove the follicular units from the scalp.

Topping occurs in the first step when the doctor accidentally cuts off the top of the graft so that the remainder of the graft cannot be removed.

Capping occurs when the doctor grabs a graft with forceps and the top of the graft (the epidermis and upper dermis) pulls off, leaving the rest of the graft behind.

Tethering occurs when the bottom of the graft is still attached to the deeper tissues after the first step causing the follicular unit to pull apart during extraction.

There are a few other terms used as well.

Shredding occurs when the follicular unit is not totally separated from the surrounding tissue and pulls apart upon extraction. Shredding can also occur when the follicular unit was partially damaged in the first step.

Transection is like topping, but here the mid or lower portion of the hairs in the unit are cut.

Buried grafts occur when the graft is pushed into the sub-cutaneous space rather than extracted. Buried grafts can usually be removed, but if not removed completely, may turn form small cysts.

Visit the Follicular Unit Extraction page.

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Q: I am a patient of yours who had a hair transplantation procedure done mostly in the crown area and in the front about seven months ago. The hair is just starting to come in nicely and is starting to fill in the bald spots. Yesterday I carelessly banged the top of my head against a beam in my attic and cut a nice gash in, you guessed it, a transplanted area. I’d say that the cut is about a good inch. My wife works for a doctor who is certified in facial plastic surgery and I had him suture up the gash. He did not cut any hair, but it took 4 stitches to close the wound. I’m worried about the impact on the transplanted area. Just when it was starting to come in nice I now have a bald spot that I suspect is going to stay as a result of the accident. Please advise. — V.F., Fort Lee, N.J.

A: There is not much you can do at this time. Depending upon the doctor’s suturing techniques; you may or may not have permanent hair loss from the trauma and subsequent suturing. The problem is that if the sutures are placed too far from the wound edge they can strangulate hair follicles, particularly if there is any swelling. Hair loss may be temporary, but if it is permanent, it should be minimal. Additional grafts can be added at your next hair restoration procedure to cover any area of hair loss and the scar from the injury, if it is visible.

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Q: What can be done if I want to have a hair transplant and my scalp is very tight from prior surgeries? — R.R., Long Island, N.Y.

A: Follicular Unit Extraction is ideal in very tight scalps, provided that there is enough hair to extract without leaving the donor area too thin and provided that the follicles are not too distorted from the scarring.

With strip harvesting, undermining techniques may be helpful to close the wound edges once the strip is removed.

In undermining, the surgeon uses either a sharp instrument (scalpel) or blunt instrument (the dull edge of scissors) to separate the upper layers of the scalp (dermis and epidermis) from the lower part of the scalp (fascia). The hair transplant surgeon accomplishes this by spreading apart the fat layer of the skin or by cutting through scar tissue.

Undermining allows the upper layers of skin to literally slide over the lower layers and can significantly increase the ability to close a tight wound. However, if not done carefully, it may increase the risk of bleeding and injury to nerves and occasionally may damage hair follicles.

Undermining is usually used with a layered closure where the deeper tissues are brought together first with a layer of absorbable sutures before the surface of the skin is sutured closed with sutures that are removed.

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Q: I have a scar on the top of my head the size of a quarter from an old injury. I would like hair to grow back on the bald spot. Can a hair transplant re-grow hair on the spot and not have any scar on my head at all? – E.D., Oceanside, N.Y.

A: Traumatic scars are readily treated with follicular unit hair transplantation. The hair generally grows quite well in scar tissue as long as the scar is not thickened (hypertrophic). Several sessions are usually required. Although the hair restoration can make the bald area undetectable, the underlying scar tissue will still be there.

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Cosmetic Surgery Times features Dr. Bernstein’s presentation to the 55th annual meeting of the American Academy of Dermatology in their April 1997 issue.

The article entitled, “Follicular Transplants Mimic Natural Hair Growth Patterns,” describes Dr. Bernstein’s introduction of his new procedure, Follicular Unit Transplantation, to the academy as well as the keys to making the technique successful. Find the complete article below:

Form Follows Function: Follicular Transplants Mimic Natural Hair Growth Patterns

By Neil Osterweil
Contributing Editor

SAN FRANCISCO – In recent years, many hair replacement surgeons have adopted the modem architecture philosophy that “less is more,” moving from the use of hair plugs, to split grafts, to minigrafts and, finally, micrografts. But at least one hair transplant specialist contends that a more appropriate architectural dictum is “form follows function.”

In other words, the surgeon should let the technique fit the head, and not the other way around, suggested Robert M. Bernstein, MD, at the 55th annual meeting of the American Academy of Dermatology.

Dr. Bernstein is an assistant clinical professor of dermatology at the College of Physicians and Surgeons, Columbia University in New York. He described his “follicular transplantation” technique in a meeting presentation and in an interview with COSMETIC SURGERY TIMES.

Natural Hair Groups Used

Dr. Robert M. Bernstein“Hair doesn’t grow singly it grows in naturally occurring groups of from one to four hairs. In follicular transplantation, we use these naturally occurring groups as the unit of the transplant,” he told CST.

The typical follicular unit consists of one to four terminal hairs, one or two vellus hairs, sebaceous glands, subcutaneous fat and a band of collagen which circumscribes and defines the unit. In the follicular transplant technique, the follicular unit is carefully dissected and removed, and then the intervening skin is discarded. This enables the donor site to be small, allowing implantation through a small needle poke. Because trauma to the recipient sites is minimal, the entire procedure can be performed at one time. Dr. Bernstein and colleagues have implanted as many as 3,900 follicular units in a single, 1 day session.

Keys to the follicular transplant technique are:

Identify the patient’s natural hair groupings and isolate the individual follicular units – Hair groupings are assessed with an instrument called a densitometer, and the average size of a person’s groups can be easily calculated. This information is critical in the planning of the transplant. The density of hairs in an individual measured as the number of hairs per square millimeter of skin is quite variable, but the density of follicular units is relatively constant within individual races.

Most people of Caucasian ancestry have a density of approximately one group per millimeter; people of Asian and African descent tend to have slightly less dense growth patterns, although the characteristics of the person’s hair (such as wavy or wiry hair), can give a full appearance even with low density.

If a patient has an average hair density of two, he will receive mostly two hair implants, with some one-hair and three hair implants mixed in. “If you try to make the groups larger than they occur naturally, they will look pluggy. If you try to make them smaller than they naturally occur, they’re not going to grow as well, because each group is actually a little biologic machine that makes the hair — it’s an anatomic unit. If you break it up it just doesn’t grow as well,” Dr. Bernstein observed.

Form Follows Function: Follicular Transplants Mimic Natural Hair Growth Patterns
A 38-year old man with a Norwood Class 5A/6 hair loss pattern undergoes a single procedure of 2,500 follicular implants. The result 11 months later. (Photos courtesy of Robert M. Bernstein, MD)

Harvest meticulously – The acquisition and preparation of grafts must be carefully performed to ensure success for this demanding technique. Highly trained, skilled assistants are essential to the success of the procedure. Dr. Bernstein noted that he uses a highly trained team of up to 10 assistants to produce the implants for a single case. “The assistants, who range from medical technicians to registered nurses, are such an integral part of the procedure that they must become expert in their specific tasks for the surgery to be successful.” The physician must be able to skillfully harvest the donor strip and must be able to make accurate judgments about the size of grafts intra-operatively and adjust the technique accordingly. Dissection and placing of the follicular units is the most labor intensive part of the procedure.

Design the recipient area well – The recipient sites are carefully distributed so that a natural looking pattern is maintained throughout the recipient area. An important consideration for this stage of the procedure is to “frame the face and spare the crown” so those facial features are kept in correct proportion. A common mistake in hair replacement, said Dr. Bernstein, is to create a hairline that is too high thereby elongating the forehead and accentuating, rather than minimizing, the patient’s baldness. It is also important to avoid or eliminate contrast between the implants and surrounding skin by creating a soft transition zone of single hairs and to have the hair emerge from the scalp at natural angles.

Procedure Lowers Cost

Although the procedure is highly labor intensive, it can actually be less expensive than conventional hair replacement surgery, because it can be performed in a single, but lengthy, session.

“It is also much more efficient and conserves donor hair much better than conventional hair transplants. Every time you make an incision in the person’s scalp you waste some hair and make the remaining hair more difficult to remove. Accessing the donor area just once or twice will increase the total amount of hair that is available for the transplant,” Dr. Bernstein told CST.

“In the very near future, the procedure will be improved and made more affordable with automated instruments that will enable the surgeon to make sites and implant the hair in a single motion. This will also decrease the possibility of injury to the implants by reducing handling and keeping the grafts uniformly cool and moist. It is possible that someday hair follicles may be cloned to provide a virtually unlimited supply of custom follicular units, but until then the finite nature of a person’s donor supply must be respected,” concluded the doctor.

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