Use of Incisional Negative Pressure Wound Therapy in Skin-Containing Free Tissue Transfer

J Reconstr Microsurg. 2018 Mar;34(3):200-205. doi: 10.1055/s-0037-1608621. Epub 2017 Nov 7.


Background: Negative pressure wound therapy (NPWT) was initially introduced for wound management, but its benefits have stimulated the investigation of its use in new clinical scenarios. Most recently, incisional NPWT has been shown to be a benefit. Incisional NPWT applied to skin-containing free tissue transfer has not been well defined. This may originate from concerns of dressing material obscuring frequent examination of the newly transferred tissue or risk of pedicle compression and potential for increased risk of tissue loss. We aim to describe incisional NPWT in cutaneous free tissue transfer.

Methods: An institutional review board-approved retrospective review of consecutive free tissue transfer patients was completed over a 3-year period. Free tissue transfer procedures were performed in standard manner. After fixation of the flap to the donor site with interrupted sutures, one or two drainage tubes were inserted in the subflap position. The surface of the flap was protected with Vaseline gauze followed by a 1 cm thick layer of sterile cotton. The vacuum-assisted closure (VAC) sponge (KCI, TX) was then placed in the standard fashion and negative pressure at -125 mm Hg was initiated in a continuous mode. A window was routinely made over the flap's distal region to allow for serial flap examination. For extremity procedures, no splints were utilized, and patients were limited to motion in the hospital bed. NPWT was employed continuously for 7 days and subsequently removed along with operative drains.

Results: A total of 24 consecutive patients underwent free tissue transfer. The average patient age was 39.8 years with a mean body mass index of 23. Tobacco use was noted in 58% of patients in the series. The indication for the free tissue transfer included trauma (N = 21), malignancy (N = 2), and burn reconstruction (N = 1). The areas of reconstruction included scalp (N = 5), lower extremity (N = 11), and upper extremity (N = 8). Skin-containing free flaps employed consisted of the latissimus dorsi myocutaneous free flap (N = 16), anterolateral thigh free flap (N = 6), thoracodorsal artery perforator free flap (N = 1), and radial forearm free flap (N = 1). The average defect size reconstructed was 238.3 cm2 with a mean operative time of 501 minutes. Postoperatively, patients remained in the hospital an average of 15.5 days (range: 9-32 days) with a mean follow-up of 8.1 months. No hematomas, seromas, surgical-site infections, or deep vein thrombosis/pulmonary embolism occurred in the series. None of the flaps required return to the operating room. There were no documented cases of partial or complete flap loss.

Conclusions: NPWT may be employed in a fashion similar to the standard incisional application. With this technique, serial flap examination remains possible and is not associated with pedicle compression or increased rates of flap loss. Interestingly, no splints were utilized with the VAC device which itself may serve as a relative immobilizer of an extremity.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Drainage
  • Fascia / transplantation*
  • Female
  • Free Tissue Flaps / blood supply
  • Graft Survival
  • Humans
  • Length of Stay / statistics & numerical data
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Negative-Pressure Wound Therapy*
  • Plastic Surgery Procedures*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Skin Transplantation / methods*
  • Suture Techniques
  • Treatment Outcome