Defects in the distal third of the leg are difficult to cover and often require free tissue transfer, even for defects of limited sizes. Propeller flaps have been designed specifically as an alternative to free tissue transfer but at times have been associated with unacceptably high complication rates. We therefore aimed to prospectively assess our own institutional experience with this technique and to define its role in lower-limb reconstruction.
All patients who had been managed with reconstruction of the distal part of the leg with a propeller flap between 2014 and 2017 were included in the study. Demographic, clinical, and follow-up data on the patients and surgical procedures were recorded with special focus on the complication profile.
Twenty-six patients underwent propeller flap reconstruction of the distal part of the leg: 12 flaps were based on the posterior tibial artery, and 14 were based on the peroneal artery. Postoperative complications developed in association with 1 of the 12 flaps based on the posterior tibial artery, compared with 8 of the 14 flaps based on the peroneal artery (p = 0.015). Moreover, the presence of a higher Charlson comorbidity index (≥2) was strongly associated with the development of postoperative complications (p < 0.001).
Propeller flaps are a reliable option for traumatic reconstruction in carefully selected patients with lower-limb defects. In our experience, the rate of complications was higher for propeller flaps based on the peroneal artery and for patients with a Charlson comorbidity index of ≥2, whereas posterior tibial artery-based propeller flap reconstruction was a reliable surgical option for patients with a small defect in the distal third of the lower limb.
Level of Evidence:
Therapeutic Level IV. See Instructions for Authors for a complete description of levels of evidence.