Strategies Following Free Flap Failure in Lower Extremity Trauma: A Systematic Review

Isabelle T. S. Koster*, Marieke P. Borgdorff, Faridi S. Jamaludin, Tim de Jong, Matthijs Botman, Caroline Driessen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articleAcademicpeer-review


Background: Free flap reconstructions are an important reconstructive option for soft tissue defects in mangled lower extremities. Microsurgery facilitates soft tissue coverage of defects that otherwise would result in amputation. However, the success rates of traumatic lower extremity free flap reconstructions remain lower than those in other locations. Nevertheless, post-free flap failure salvage strategies have rarely been addressed. Therefore, the current review aims to provide an overview of post-free flap failure strategies in lower extremity trauma and their subsequent outcomes. Methods: A search of Pubmed, Cochrane, and Embase databases was performed on June 9, June 2021 using the following medical subject headings (MeSH) search terms: ‘lower extremity’, ‘leg injuries’, ‘reconstructive surgical procedures’, ‘reoperation’, ‘microsurgery’ and ‘treatment failure’. This review was conducted in accordance with Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses (PRISMA) guidelines. Partial and total free flap failures after traumatic reconstruction were included. Results: Twenty-eight studies with a total of 102 free flap failures fulfilled the eligibility criteria. Following the total failure, a second free flap is the predominant reconstructive strategy (69%). In comparison to the failure rate of a first free flap (10%), the fate of a second free flap is less favorable with a failure rate of 17%. The amputation rate following flap failure is 12%. The risk of amputation increases between primary and secondary free flap failures. After partial flap loss, the preferred strategy is a split skin graft (50%). Conclusion: To our knowledge, this is the first systematic review on the outcome of salvage strategies after free flap failure in traumatic lower extremity reconstruction. This review provides valuable evidence to take into consideration in the decision-making regarding post-free flap failure strategies.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)94-104
Number of pages11
JournalJPRAS Open
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2023

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