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Timing of Traumatic Upper Extremity Free Flap Reconstruction: A Systematic Review and Progress Report

Harrison, Bridget L. M.D.; Lakhiani, Chrisovalantis B.S.; Lee, Michael R. M.D.; Saint-Cyr, Michel M.D.

Plastic & Reconstructive Surgery: September 2013 - Volume 132 - Issue 3 - p 591–596
doi: 10.1097/PRS.0b013e31829ad012
Hand/Peripheral Nerve: Original Articles

Background: The recommendations on the timing of microsurgical extremity reconstruction are as variable and numerous as the flaps described for such reconstruction. Original articles suggested that reconstruction should take place within 72 hours of injury. However, significant changes in perioperative and intraoperative management have occurred in this field, which may allow for more flexibility in the timing of reconstruction. This article aims to review current literature on timing of upper extremity reconstruction to provide the microsurgeon with up-to-date recommendations.

Methods: A structured literature search including Spanish and English language articles published between January of 1995 and December of 2011 was performed using the MEDLINE and Scopus databases. The search strategy was conducted using groups of key words, and articles were subsequently reviewed for relevance. Bibliographies of selected articles were further reviewed for additional relevant publications. Rates of total flap loss, infection, hospital stay, and bony nonunion were recorded and analyzed according to emergent (<24 hours), early (<5 days), primary (6 to 21 days), or delayed (>21 days) reconstruction.

Results: Fifteen articles met inclusion criteria. There was no significant association between timing of reconstruction and rates of flap loss, infection, or bony nonunion. Linear regression analysis displayed a significant association between length of hospital stay and timing of reconstruction.

Conclusions: No conclusive evidence exists to suggest that emergent, early, primary, or delayed reconstruction will eliminate or decrease complications associated with posttraumatic upper extremity reconstruction. Earlier reconstruction may decrease length of hospital stay and limit associated medical costs.

Dallas, Texas; and Rochester, Minn.

From the Department of Plastic Surgery, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center; and the Department of Plastic Surgery, Mayo Clinic.

Received for publication June 25, 2012; accepted March 4, 2013.

Disclosure: The authors have no financial interest to declare in relation to this article.

Michel Saint-Cyr, M.D., Division of Plastic Surgery, Mayo Clinic, 200 First Street SW, Rochester, Minn. 55905,

©2013American Society of Plastic Surgeons