Traumatic intercalary defects of the tibia may be effectively managed with the free fibula flap. However, any alteration of limb alignment with residual bony angular deformity of the tibia must be also addressed. We describe the use of the free fibula flap in conjunction with external fixation to allow residual deformity correction and patient mobilization ambulation during healing of the free flap.
Retrospective medical record review was conducted of patients with segmental tibial defects greater than 7 cm who underwent reconstruction with fibula free flap and simple pin-bar external fixation, followed by conversion to 6-axis computer-assisted multiplanar circular ring external fixation to correct residual bony deformity. Outcomes analyses included free flap complications, return to the operating room, complications associated with the external fixation, bony union, correction of residual deformity, amputation rate, visual analog pain scales, and patient satisfaction.
Eight patients (8 tibiae) underwent reconstruction. Mean tibial bone defect was 10.2 cm; all limbs had soft-tissue defects (mean size, 138 cm2). Free fibula grafts were harvested as osteocutaneous or osteomyocutaneous flaps (average length, 12 cm). Complications included 1 delayed union and 3 (37.5%) patients readmitted for graft fracture. Ultimately, 100% of patients achieved graft union with satisfactory correction of residual limb deformity. Limb salvage rate was 100%.
Management of segmental tibial bone loss utilizing initial simple external fixation and microsurgical reconstruction followed by application of computer-assisted circular external fixator may provide a reliable reconstructive protocol for posttraumatic tibial defects with residual bone malalignment.