Plastic surgeons are often asked to assist with the reconstruction of lower extremity wounds. These patients many times require free tissue transfer for coverage given paucity of soft tissue. Anecdotally, many orthopedic surgeons prefer muscle coverage—particularly in the setting of potentially infected bone. Today's surgeons now easily harvest and transfer fasciocutaneous flaps—a versatile option with less donor-site morbidity. We hypothesized that there would be no difference in outcomes between these 2 types of reconstruction.
We performed a single-institution retrospective review of lower extremity free flap reconstructions in the last 10 years. Demographics, preoperative and postoperative course, and the documented time to weight-bearing and bony union were collected. Major cohorts compared were muscle free flaps and fasciocutaneous free flaps, further divided into subgroups including acute trauma, tumor resection, osteomyelitis, and nonunion. Data comparisons were made using paired t test and Fischer exact tests.
There were 121 patients who met inclusion criteria—86 in the muscle flap group, and 35 in the fasciocutaneous group and demographics were equal. Total complication rates were higher in smokers than nonsmokers (P < 0.03). There was no significant difference in major or minor complication rates between muscle and fasciocutaneous flaps in any subgroup. In both the acute fracture group and the infected nonunion group, there was a significantly faster return to weight bearing in the fasciocutaneous group (P < 0.03) although there was no difference in documented time to bony union. Patients who underwent fasciocutaneous reconstruction were more likely to require revisionary surgery for improved aesthetics (P < 0.001).
Our data suggest that in essentially all clinical parameters, there is no difference between free flap type used for soft tissue coverage of the lower extremity. Patients undergoing reconstruction with a fasciocutaneous flap may return to weight bearing earlier—although they are more likely to require elective flap revisions. These results imply essentially equivalent outcomes regardless of flap type or operative indication, in contrast with some of the biases in the orthopedic community. The particular flap chosen for any reconstruction should remain solely at the discretion of the plastic surgeon.