When implants are placed below the muscles of the chest, activating those muscles may cause the implants to move or change shape. In the majority of women with implants, the amount of movement that occurs is hardly noticeable. In some women, however, the muscle can dramatically displace the implant, pushing it upwards and outwards. This is especially true of women with strong chest muscles and very little body fat.
Referred to by plastic surgeons as a breast animation deformity, this condition is only visible when the muscles are active. When the chest muscles relax, the implants return to their normal resting position.
Sometimes Implant Movement Negatively Affects Quality of Life
Even if you don’t flex your muscles on a stage in a bikini as a bodybuilder or fitness competitor, you may notice an undesirable change in the appearance of your breasts when your pecs activate. Board certified plastic surgeon Dr. Ned Snyder IV has seen a variety of patients in his practice over the years who are not athletes, yet they come to him for help because they feel like their breast implants are moving constantly, even when they just move their arms around normally.
“This may impact quality of life for some women,” points out Snyder. When this is the case, he offers his patients the option to surgically relocate the implant to a new position above the muscle.
Why Are Implants Most Often Placed Below the Muscle?
If you have an animation deformity you may wonder why the implant was placed below the muscle in the first place. There are several important benefits to placing breast implants under the muscle. For one, a woman’s muscle tissue provides natural coverage for an implant. This translates to a more natural appearance after augmentation. Additionally, when an implant is placed below the muscle, the natural breast tissue is undisturbed and remains entirely above the implant.
Implants placed below the muscle also do not obscure images taken during a mammogram, while those placed above the muscle can make breast health screenings more difficult. A third benefit to placing the implant below the muscle is a lower risk of developing what is known ascapsular contracture, or the hardening of the scar tissue around the implant.
Benefits to Sub-Muscular Placement:
- More natural appearance
- Do not obscure mammograms
- Lower risk of capsular contracture
Correcting Animation Deformities
To correct the problem, the muscle manipulating the implant needs to be moved back to its original position. To accomplish this, Dr. Snyder removes the implant, along with the surrounding capsule of scar tissue. He then re-attaches the muscle to the chest wall.
Next, he creates a new pocket for the implant above the muscle. Once moved, however, the implant no longer has the benefit of the supportive strength and coverage that the muscle tissues previously provided. “Oftentimes, we need something to support that implant in the new position,” explains Snyder. “So, we’ll create a kind of sling that helps hold it internally. That may do the same thing as the pectoralis muscle was doing before in terms of helping hold that hold that implant.”
The sling, sometimes referred to as an internal bra, is made out of a dissolvable surgical mesh material. As the mesh slowly resorbs over time, it leaves behind an added layer of natural supportive tissue to help hold the implant in position long term.
Easier Recovery the Second Time Around
Much of the discomfort that follows a primary breast augmentation is the result of the chest muscles being stretched to accommodate the implants. Since the new pocket being created is above the muscle, muscle soreness is no longer part of the recovery. Suturing the surgical mesh into place typically adds a little bit of time to the length surgery, but it doesn’t really contribute anything in terms of pain or recovery, adds Snyder.
Surgery to Fix Animation Deformity Can Be Done in Combination with a Breast Lift
In cases where the animation deformity is a concern for a woman with aging breasts, Dr. Snyder has successfully combined implant re-positioning with a breast lift procedure.
As breasts age, the skin loses its elasticity and begins to droop. This change in breast shape can also leave women with nipples that point downwards instead of out. During a breast lift Dr. Snyder removes excess skin and reshapes the remaining breast tissue. He also re-positions the nipples to a more youthful, central position on the lifted breasts.
An added bonus for these patients is that the surgical mesh placed to help support the relocated implant serves double duty. The mesh also works as a layer of support for the weak, aging skin, ensuring longer lasting breast lift results.