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JOURNAL ARTICLE

Posttraumatic thumb reconstruction

Arshad R Muzaffar, James J Chao, Jeffrey B Friedrich, Jeffrey B Freidrich
Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery 2005, 116 (5): 103e-122e
16217456

LEARNING OBJECTIVES: After reading this article, the reader should be able to: 1. Discuss the critical anatomic features of the thumb as they affect on reconstructive decision making. 2. Define the goals of reconstruction. 3. Discuss an algorithm for thumb reconstruction according to the level of amputation. 4. Understand the role of prosthetics in thumb reconstruction.

BACKGROUND: The function of the thumb is critical to overall hand function. Uniquely endowed with anatomic features that allow circumduction and opposition, the thumb enables activities of pinch, grasp, and fine manipulation that are essential in daily life. Destruction of the thumb secondary to trauma represents a much more significant loss than would result from loss of any other digit. Therefore, significant effort has been focused on thumb reconstruction. Numerous techniques have been described, ranging from simple osteoplastic techniques to complex microsurgical procedures. With an appreciation of the unique anatomic properties of the thumb, the hand surgeon is better able to understand the goals of thumb reconstruction and to develop an algorithm for thumb reconstruction. With such an understanding, an individualized reconstructive plan can be developed for each patient.

METHODS: A great many options are available for posttraumatic thumb reconstruction. Optimal results are obtained by pursuing an organized and logical approach to reconstruction based upon the level of tissue loss. Reconstruction methods depend on the location of the amputation and range from homodigital and heterodigital flaps to partial-toe transfer or a great-toe wrap-around flap to first-web-space deepening using Z-plasties, a dorsal rotation flap, or a distant flap, to distraction osteogenesis, lengthening of the thumb ray, spare parts from another injured digit in the acute setting for pollicization or heterotopic replantation, and microvascular toe transfer.

RESULTS: Amputations in the distal third of the thumb are generally well-tolerated. The primary reconstructive issues are the restoration of a padded and sensate soft-tissue cover, as well as aesthetic considerations. First-web-space deepening will generally provide excellent results for amputations at the distal half of the middle third. In the proximal half of the middle third, lengthening of the thumb ray is generally required. Distraction lengthening of the first metacarpal is a useful and reliable technique that provides up to 3 cm of length without requiring complex microsurgical methods. Spare parts from another injured digit may be used in the acute setting for pollicization or heterotopic replantation. Microvascular toe transfer is an excellent option for elective reconstruction. However, other options also are available and may be more appropriate in some cases. Less ideal options include the various types of osteoplastic reconstruction.

CONCLUSIONS: The reconstruction of posttraumatic thumb defects is a challenging and rewarding surgical endeavor. The value of a functioning thumb is immense, and its reconstruction is worthy of considerable effort. Despite the elegant reconstructive options available, the best results are obtained with replantation or revascularization whenever possible. Finally, the treatment plan always must be derived from a careful assessment of each patient's posttraumatic function and specific reconstructive needs.

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