Soft tissue free flap reconstruction of upper extremities has proven to be reliable and essential for limb salvage and function. Nevertheless, comparative data regarding flap outcome are still lacking. The present study aimed to compare procedural features and individual complication rates of different free flaps used for upper extremity reconstruction.
Methods: The authors evaluated retrospectively the results of 164 free flaps in 149 patients with upper extremity defects. Chart reviews were performed from April 2000 to June 2014, analyzing flap choices, complication, and success rate assessment for patients >18 years old, with a soft tissue defect of the upper extremity. Chosen flap types were classified as fasciocutaneous (including adipocutaneous) and muscle-based, respectively. We comparatively analyzed total flap loss, flap survival after microsurgical revisions, and susceptibility rates for thromboses rates and partial flap necrosis.
Results: Defect size was larger when muscle-based flaps were used (231 ± 38.6 versus 164 ± 13.7 cm2, P < 0.05). Outcome analysis revealed a tendency towards higher arterial thrombosis rates for muscle flaps (10.2% versus 4.3%) and venous thrombosis rates for fasciocutaneous flaps (2% versus 7%). Total flap loss (6.1% versus 7.8%) and flap survival after vascular revisions (75% versus 70.6%) showed comparable rates. Partial flap necrosis was generally higher in muscle-based flaps (22.4% versus 8.6%, P = 0.02) with impact on patients' hospital stay (37.2 ± 4.69 and 27.11 ± 1.62 days, n = 115, P = 0.01), while no differences in partial necrosis rates were noted in flaps larger than 300 cm2 (25% versus 10%, P = 0.55). There was a trend over time towards using fasciocutaneous-based flaps more frequently with a final overall percentage of 83.7% between 2012 and 2014.
Conclusions: Microsurgical tissue transfer to the upper extremity is safe and reliable, but flap-type specific procedural and measures should be taken into consideration. Total flap loss as well as flap survival after microsurgical revisions are not altered between these flaps. They differ, however, in their susceptibilities for thromboses rates, partial flap necrosis and thus require individual risk stratification and flap placement.