Soft tissue cover in compound and complicated tibial fractures using microvascular flaps

S W Hong, C S Seah, L B Kuek, K C Tan
Annals of the Academy of Medicine, Singapore 1998, 27 (2): 182-7
This is a retrospective review of the use of microvascular flaps in the salvage of severely injured lower limb. From January 1992 to December 1994, we treated 10 patients using 10 microvascular flaps; 8 patients with Type III compound tibial fractures and 2 patients with infected implants following internal fixation of comminuted tibial fractures. The size of soft tissue defect ranged from 6 x 3 cm to 20 x 10 cm. One patient had a 6 cm bony defect. Soft tissue cover was achieved in 9 patients using microvascular muscle flaps with meshed split skin grafts and 1 patient using a scapula osteocutaneous flap. They were performed within 5 to 27 days following injury or removal of implants (mean 18 days). All the microvascular flaps were successful (100%). One re-exploration was performed. The mean period of hospitalization following microsurgical flap cover was 16.8 days. Eight out of 10 patients were followed up for a mean period of 48 months. All the 8 lower limbs were successfully salvaged. Three out of 8 patients (37.5%) had chronic osteomyelitis which required sequestrectomy and bone grafting. No amputation was necessary. Two patients required adjunctive cancellous bone grafting to accelerate bony union. Six out of 8 patients (75%) achieved bony union and full weight bearing capacity. The use of microvascular flap in achieving soft tissue cover plays an important role in the salvage of severely traumatized lower limb. Microvascular muscle flap is preferred when only soft tissue defect is present. Successful soft tissue cover facilitates secondary bone grafting procedures. Although the timing of surgery per se does not adversely affect the success rate of microvascular flaps, delayed soft tissue cover is associated with a high chronic infection rate (37.5%). An adequate surgical debridement is crucial in reducing the complication of deep infection.

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