Monday, July 25, 2011

Should Langer’s Lines be Used for Incisions?

Updated 3/2017-- all links (except to my own posts) removed as many no longer active. 

An old PRS journal article came to my attention recently thanks to a tweet by @prsjournal: “Most Emailed Article Langer's Lines: To Use or Not to Use: Thirty-six differently named guidelines have develope...”
[I’m not sure the time frame involved in the “most emailed.” Not sure if it’s for the day, the week, etc.] –
The tweeted article (first full reference below) is a short one and I would recommend it to young plastic surgeons and students.
A state of tension exists naturally in skin. For instance, wounded skin will gape, becoming elliptical instead of round. The first to notice this skin property was Dupuytren. In 1834, he encountered a corpse of a man who had stabbed himself with a round-tipped awl. Dupuytren noticed these stab wounds were elliptical instead of round. Then in 1838, Malgaigne wrote about the direction of these ellipses being different in different areas of the body. These two men did not drive home their point; Karl Langer, however, exhaustively studied the direction of these ellipses by stabbing a round-tipped awl into hundreds of cadavers. …….. but he is best remembered for his lines. ……….
In 1897, Kocher recognized the surgical importance of Langer's tension lines. He advised that surgical incisions follow these lines. However, Langer, an anatomy professor, did not intend for his lines to be used as guides for incisions. Later, Borges pointed out that Langer's lines represent lines of cleavage in cadavers and not lines of relaxed tension……….
Langer's lines are quite different from the relaxed skin tension lines of the face. These lines were described by Borges in 1962,and they are probably the most-accepted guide for incisions of the face………..
Langer's lines are almost perpendicular to Borges's relaxed skin tension lines in the areas of the scalp, forehead, glabella, midcheek, and lateral eye…………….
Cornelius Kraissl maintained that scars were least conspicuous when placed in wrinkle lines. … Kraissl recognized that wrinkles occurred perpendicular to muscle action. From this, he developed a scheme for elective incisions. However, these incisions might not be inconspicuous in patients without wrinkles or with ill-defined wrinkles. Also, wrinkle lines do not always coincide with Borges's relaxed skin tension lines. Hence, Borges's lines are the best guide for elective incisions of the face. …………….
Developed from cadavers with extremities in extension, Langer's lines are longitudinal over joints. Blocker and Hendrix recognized that Langer's longitudinal lines predisposed patients to contractures when they were used over joints. Oriented perpendicular to muscle action, Kraissl's lines have a more transverse orientation than Langer's. Accordingly, Kraissl's transverse lines of the upper extremity do not predispose patients to contracture formation. ……….
Many other factors contribute to the camouflaging of scars, including wrinkle and contour lines. Learn how to assess the direction of least tension on the wound and orient the closure accordingly.
Borges's and Kraissl's lines are better guides for elective incisions in the face and body, respectively, than Langer’s lines. Remember, they are only guidelines. (photo scanned in from 2nd reference article)

1. Langer's Lines: To Use or Not to Use; Wilhelmi, Bradon J.; Blackwell, Steven J.; Phillips, Linda G.; Plastic & Reconstructive Surgery. 104(1):208-214, July 1999
2. The Selection of Appropriate Lines for Elective Surgical Incisions; Kraissl, Cornelius J; Plastic & Reconstructive Surgery. 8(1):1-28, July 1951.
3. Relaxed Skin Tension Lines (RSTL) versus Other Skin Lines; Borges, Albert F.; Plastic & Reconstructive Surgery. 73(1):144-150, January 1984.

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