A systematic review of abdominal wall function following abdominal flaps for postmastectomy breast reconstruction

Ann Plast Surg. 2009 Aug;63(2):222-30. doi: 10.1097/SAP.0b013e31818c4a9e.


Perforator flap breast reconstruction potentially offers patients greater postoperative abdominal strength compared with traditional TRAM techniques. Our purpose was to perform a systemic review of the published literature regarding abdominal wall function following breast reconstruction and compare outcomes between pedicle TRAM, free TRAM, and perforator flap procedures. We used the MEDLINE, EMBASE, CINAHL, the Cochrane Network, and HAPI databases from January 1966 through November 1, 2007 to identify potentially relevant studies. Inclusion criteria included studies that evaluated subjective or objective functional abdominal outcomes for postmastectomy patients receiving either pedicle TRAM, free TRAM, or deep inferior epigastric perforator (DIEP) flaps. All study designs were included in the review-prospective studies, cross-sectional studies, and retrospective case series. Our search yielded 20 studies on abdominal wall function after autogenous tissue breast reconstruction. Objective measures of abdominal wall function using isometric dynamometry revealed that pedicle TRAM patients experienced up to a 23% deficit, whereas free TRAM patients experienced up to an 18% deficit in trunk flexion. For trunk extension, pedicle TRAM patients experienced up to a 14% deficit, whereas free TRAM patients experienced minimal to no deficits. However, none of the comparative studies of pedicle and free TRAM procedures found significant differences in abdominal wall function between the 2 groups. Studies that compared free TRAM to DIEP flaps found significantly higher flexion abilities in the DIEP groups, with one study reporting an advantage in measures of extension for DIEP flaps. Functional deficits assessed by physiotherapy measures revealed that patients with pedicle TRAM reconstructions experienced the greatest deficit in rectus and oblique muscle function (up to 53%). Free TRAM groups experienced minimal deficit in rectus muscle function, whereas DIEP flaps returned to baseline for both rectus and oblique muscle function. Subjective measures of abdominal wall function were similar across unipedicle TRAM, free TRAM, and DIEP flap procedures. Patients with bilateral pedicle TRAM reconstruction suffered up to a 40% deficit in trunk flexion and up to a 9% deficit in trunk extension. Patients with bilateral pedicle or free TRAM reconstruction also experienced a significant decrease in the ability to perform sit-ups and a significant decrease in activities of daily living, recreational, and laborious activities. With the exception of those who had bipedicled TRAM or bilateral free TRAM procedures, most women reported return to their preoperative function without a decrease in their ability to perform activities of daily living. Although some studies report an objective advantage of DIEP flaps, this does not appear to translate to detriments in the performance of activities of daily living. However, the current data have limitations in study design and generalizability. A multicenter, longitudinal study is needed to assess objective and subjective outcomes in patients with pedicle TRAM, free TRAM, and perforator flaps using standardized and validated measures.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Abdomen / surgery*
  • Breast Neoplasms / surgery*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Mammaplasty / methods*
  • Mastectomy
  • Surgical Flaps*