Low complication rate associated with raising mature flap for tibial nonunion reconstruction

Ryan E Will, Mark E Fleming, Paul M Lafferty, James W Fletcher, Peter A Cole
Journal of Trauma 2011, 71 (6): 1709-14

BACKGROUND: Tibia fractures may require soft tissue coverage with transposed tissue and can develop nonunions. Tibial defects can be approached with a posterolateral approach or by elevating the previously transposed tissue. No literature has previously reported the efficacy or safety of the latter approach. The purpose of this study was to report the flap survival rate and complications from delayed elevation of transposed soft tissue as part of a protocol for the treatment of tibia nonunions.

METHODS: In a retrospective review of patients having local, regional, or free soft tissue transposition for the management of open type III B high-energy tibial fractures and also requiring secondary procedures on the same tibia for treatment of tibial nonunion and/or osteomyelitis that required flap elevation, 23 patients with 24 flaps were identified and studied. The 24 flaps were elevated a total of 72 times as part of a staged protocol for nonunion reconstruction by a single surgeon. Primary end point was flap survival. Mean follow-up after definitive soft tissue coverage was 23.7 months. Mean follow-up after injury was 28.9 months.

RESULTS: One flap failed after elevation. On a per elevation surgery basis, the flap survival rate was 98.6% (71 of 72). On a per flap basis, the flap survival rate was 95.8% (23 of 24).

CONCLUSIONS: This is the first report of the survival and complication rates for delayed elevation of soft tissue flaps for tibial nonunion reconstruction. A total of 95.8% of flaps survived elevation. Flap elevation seems to be an alternative to posterolateral tibial approaches for treatment of tibial nonunions.

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