The contribution of free radical-mediated reperfusion injury to the ischemic damage caused by total venous occlusion of island skin flaps was investigated in a standardized rat model. Control flaps subjected to 8 hours of total venous occlusion showed complete, full thickness necrosis when followed for 7 days following release of the vascular occlusion. Treatment with superoxide dismutase, a scavenger of superoxide radicals, prior to and immediately following the onset of reperfusion, significantly enhanced island flap survival from 0/11 (0%) to 8/15 (53%), p < 0.005, and from 0/9 (0%) to 6/12 (50%), p < 0.02, respectively. These findings are consistent with the hypothesis that oxygen free radicals generated at the time of reperfusion following a period of ischemia contribute significantly to the ultimate damage caused by ischemic injury. Such findings are consistent with similar reported observations on other tissues and suggest a means by which ischemic tissue injury might be therapeutically modified, even after the period of ischemia.