Reconstruction of severe lower extremity injuries using free flaps has become a reliable approach. Knowledge of long-term surgical outcomes, limb function, and quality of life is limited.
Two hundred thirty-nine patients undergoing a free flap reconstruction of an open lower extremity fracture between 1993 and 2014 were divided into three groups and studied, as follows: group 1, early free flap reconstruction within 6 weeks; group 2, delayed reconstruction after 6 weeks; and group 3, delayed reconstruction with osteomyelitis. Patient-reported outcomes were assessed with the 36-Item Short-Form Health Survey and the Lower Extremity Functional Scale. Independent variables predicting outcomes were identified using multivariate analyses.
Patients in group 3 significantly more often experienced delayed union. Questionnaires were completed by 108 patients (mean follow-up, 9.7 years). The 36-Item Short-Form Health Survey physical component scores were significantly lower in all three groups compared with Dutch norms, as was the mental health score in group 3. There were no significant differences in quality of life and lower limb function among the three groups. Chronic pain was an independent predictor for decreased quality of life and limb function in groups 1 and 2, as was delayed union for decreased limb function in group 3.
After free flap reconstruction of severe lower extremity injuries, all patient groups showed significantly lower quality of life compared to the Dutch population; however, there were no significant differences between the groups. Predictors for poorer quality of life and limb function were chronic pain and delayed union.