Microvascular Reconstruction in Burn and Electrical Burn Injuries of the Severely Traumatized Upper Extremity

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As the versatility and variability of free flaps have significantly increased during recent years, so have the indications for free tissue transplantation in burn reconstruction expanded.


The authors report retrospectively the results of 42 free flaps for upper extremity reconstruction in 35 severely burned patients using 13 different free flaps. This experience enabled the authors to establish reconstructive principles pertinent to the type of injury (burn versus high-voltage injuries) and the timing of reconstruction procedures.


In high-voltage injuries (n = 17), early free flap coverage with muscular flaps was the most frequently used type of reconstruction. The reconstruction site was predominately the forearm. In burn injuries, free flap coverage was performed during a later stage of the treatment course. Reconstruction with cutaneous or fascial flaps was the preferred method. The elbow and dorsum of the hand underwent defect coverage in most circumstances. For reconstruction of complex or large defects (n = 6), combined “chimeric” flaps were used. Overall, the flap failure rate was 12 percent (n = 5). Interestingly, there was a relationship between flap failure rate and timing of the procedure. Four of five flap failures occurred within 5 to 21 days after trauma, and all five flap failures occurred between 5 days and 6 weeks. No flap failure occurred during secondary reconstruction.


The authors' data demonstrate that burn and high-voltage injuries are distinct entities, each requiring custom-tailored reconstructive solutions for limb salvage. Even if the authors' flap failures all occurred during the first 6 weeks, it should not be forgotten that this type of coverage is the only alternative to amputation in selected cases.

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