Journal Article
Observational Study
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Gait asymmetries after fibular free flap harvest: A cross-sectional observational study.

BACKGROUND: The ability to walk safely after head and neck reconstruction with fibular free flaps in tumor surgery is a high priority for patients. In addition, surgeons and patients require objective knowledge of the functional donor-site morbidity. However, the effects of fibular free flap surgery on gait asymmetries have only been studied for step length and stance duration. This study analyses whether patients who have undergone fibular free flap reconstruction have enduring gait asymmetries compared to age-matched controls.

METHODS: Patients who underwent head and neck reconstruction with fibular free flaps between 2019 and 2023 were recruited, as well as age-matched controls. Participants walked on an instrumented treadmill at 3 km/h. The primary outcome measures were 22 gait asymmetry metrics. Secondary outcome measures were the associations of gait asymmetry with the length of the harvested fibula, and with the time after surgery.

FINDINGS: Nine out of 13 recruited patients completed the full assessment without holding on to the handrail on the treadmill. In addition, nine age-matched controls were enrolled. Twenty out of the 22 gait asymmetry parameters of patients were similar to healthy controls, while push-off peak force (p = 0.008) and medial impulse differed (p = 0.003). Gait asymmetry did not correlate with the length of the fibula harvested. Seven gait asymmetry parameters had a strong correlation with the time after surgery.

INTERPRETATION: On the long-term, fibular free flap reconstruction has only a limited effect on the asymmetry of force-related and temporal gait parameters while walking on a treadmill.

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