Outcome comparison between free muscle and free fasciocutaneous flaps for reconstruction of distal third and ankle traumatic open tibial fractures

Sukru Yazar, Chih-Hung Lin, Yu-Te Lin, Ali Engin Ulusal, Fu-Chan Wei
Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery 2006, 117 (7): 2468-75; discussion 2476-7

BACKGROUND: The advantages of free muscle flaps for reconstruction of lower extremity defects have been largely reported to be superior to those of fasciocutaneous flaps.

METHODS: One hundred seventy-four patients received 177 microsurgical free tissue transfers for distal third and ankle open tibial fractures. Patients were divided into two groups. In group I, 96 patients received 98 free muscle flaps (55.4 percent). In group II, 78 patients were treated with 79 free fasciocutaneous flaps (44.6 percent).

RESULTS: Complete flap survival was 92.9 percent and 91.1 percent in groups I and II, respectively. Postoperative infection was 11.2 percent in group I and 12.7 percent in group II. Chronic osteomyelitis developed in 9.3 percent and 12.7 percent in groups I and II, respectively. The rate of primary bone union was 84.5 percent in group I and 81 percent in group II and the rate of overall bone union was 96.9 percent in group I and 98.7 percent in group II. Finally, 92 patients in group I and 77 patients in group II could walk without crutches at 2-year follow-up. There were no statistically significant differences between the two flaps.

CONCLUSIONS: The authors achieved equal functional outcomes in both soft-tissue transfers because of (1) preoperative adequate débridement of wounds and (2) selection of proper free flaps in appropriate defects. Defects with serious tridimensionality needed free muscle flaps because they conform better to such complex defects. However, free fasciocutaneous flaps are reliable and as effective for covering the less three-dimensional distal third and ankle traumatic open tibial fractures as free muscle flaps and can better tolerate the subsequent secondary surgical procedures.

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