Free Radial Forearm Fasciocutaneous Flap in the Treatment of Distal Third Tibial Osteomyelitis

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Abstract

Background:

Osteomyelitis of the lower limb, associated with soft-tissue defects, is a reconstructive challenge. Microvascular free-tissue reconstruction is an important surgical option with the superiority of free muscle and myocutaneous flaps being explored by various publications. Muscle flaps provide good quality vascularized tissue which can be contoured into defects, but their bulk can often lead to the reconstruction having a suboptimal aesthetic outcome. This result is usually most evident in the lower third of the tibia. We present our series of free radial forearm fasciocutaneous flaps for reconstruction of distal third tibial soft-tissue defects following debridement of osteomyelitic foci and bony stabilization.

Methods:

A retrospective case-note review of 20 patients treated with free radial forearm fasciocutaneous flap reconstruction of distal third tibial soft-tissue defects following excision of osteomyelitis and adjacent scar tissue, and bony stabilization between January 1999 and December 2006 was conducted.

Results:

There were 20 patients who had established osteomyelitis of the distal third of tibia following previous open fractures. The mean size of the soft-tissue defect at the time of the free fasciocutaneous flap procedure was 72.3 cm2 and the mean bony defect was 3.4 cm. The mean duration of the procedure was 417 minutes and flap ischemia time did not extend beyond 60 minutes in any of the cases. Overall flap survival was 100% and all patients had radiologic bony union at a mean of 5.73 months. The average period of follow-up was 22.5 (range, 19–36) months, and none of the patients had a recurrence of the disease during the follow-up period.

Conclusion:

Free fasciocutaneous flap reconstruction for soft-tissue defects of the lower limb in our series was seen to be safe, reliable, and provided an aesthetic outcome with high patient satisfaction rates. We advocate the use of free fasciocutaneous flaps for small-to-moderate sized defects of the distal third of the tibia after debridement for chronic osteomyelitis. Although we have used radial forearm flaps in our series, more modern free fasciocutaneous flaps with less donor-site morbidity may be preferred.

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