JOURNAL ARTICLE

Anterior versus posterior approach in reconstruction of infected nonunion of the tibia using the vascularized fibular graft: potentialities and limitations

Sherif M Amr, Aly O El-Mofty, Sherif N Amin
Microsurgery 2002, 22 (3): 91-107
11992496
The potentialities, limitations, and technical pitfalls of the vascularized fibular grafting in infected nonunions of the tibia are outlined on the basis of 14 patients approached anteriorly or posteriorly. An infected nonunion of the tibia together with a large exposed area over the shin of the tibia is better approached anteriorly. The anastomosis is placed in an end-to-end or end-to-side fashion onto the anterior tibial vessels. To locate the site of the nonunion, the tibialis anterior muscle should be retracted laterally and the proximal and distal ends of the site of the nonunion debrided up to healthy bleeding bone. All the scarred skin over the anterior tibia should be excised, because it becomes devitalized as a result of the exposure. To cover the exposed area, the fibula has to be harvested with a large skin paddle, incorporating the first septocutaneous branch originating from the peroneal vessels before they gain the upper end of the flexor hallucis longus muscle. A disadvantage of harvesting the free fibula together with a skin paddle is that its pedicle is short. The skin paddle lies at the antimesenteric border of the graft, the site of incising and stripping the periosteum. In addition, it has to be sutured to the skin at the recipient site, so the soft tissues (together with the peroneal vessels), cannot be stripped off the graft to prolong its pedicle. Vein grafts should be resorted to, if the pedicle does not reach a healthy segment of the anterior tibial vessels. Defects with limited exposed areas of skin, especially in questionable patency of the vessels of the leg, require primarily a fibula with a long pedicle that could easily reach the popliteal vessels and are thus better approached posteriorly. In this approach, the site of the nonunion is exposed medial to the flexor digitorum muscle and the proximal and distal ends of the site of the nonunion debrided up to healthy bleeding bone. No attempt should be made to strip the scarred skin off the anterior aspect of the bone lest it should become devitalized. Any exposed bone on the anterior aspect should be left to granulate alone. This occurs readily when stability has been regained at the fracture site after transfer of the free fibula. The popliteal and posterior tibial vessels are exposed, and the microvascular anastomosis placed in an end-to-side fashion onto either of them, depending on the length of the pedicle and the condition of the vessels themselves. To obtain the maximal length of the pedicle of the graft, the proximal osteotomy is placed at the neck of the fibula after decompressing the peroneal nerve. The distal osteotomy is placed as distally as possible. After detaching the fibula from the donor site, the proximal part of the graft is stripped subperiosteally, osteotomized, and discarded. Thus, a relatively long pedicle could be obtained. To facilitate subperiosteal stripping, the free fibula is harvested without a skin paddle. In this way, the use of a vein graft could be avoided. Patients presenting with infected nonunions of the tibia with extensive scarring of the lower extremity, excessively large areas of skin loss, and with questionable patency of the anterior and posterior tibial vessels are not suitable candidates for the free vascularized fibular graft. Although a vein graft could be used between the recipient popliteal and the donor peroneal vessels, its use decreases flow to the graft considerably. These patients are better candidates for the Ilizarov bone transport method with or without free latissimus dorsi transfer.

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