Comparing 4- and 6-week post-flap protocols in patients with spinal cord injury

J Spinal Cord Med. 2021 May;44(3):392-398. doi: 10.1080/10790268.2019.1703501. Epub 2019 Dec 20.


Objective: For patients with spinal cord injury (SCI) who undergo flap surgery to treat pressure injuries (PIs), the optimal duration of post-operative bedrest to promote healing and successful remobilization to sitting is unknown. At the study center, the minimum duration of post-operative bedrest was changed from 4 to 6 weeks. The purpose of this study is to compare outcomes of patients who underwent flap surgery using bedrest protocols of different duration.Design: This was a retrospective review of all flap procedures completed at VA Puget Sound Health Care System from 1997 to 2016 to treat PIs in patients with SCI. Surgeries were excluded if they were not a flap (i.e. primary skin closure or graft), involved a non-pelvic region, or were a same-hospitalization revision of a prior surgery. The primary outcome of this investigation was the number of days between surgery and the first time the patient mobilized to sitting out of bed for 2 h with an intact surgical incision.Methods: 190 patients received a total of 286 flap surgeries from 1994 to 2016. A chart review of each case was completed to determine the planned duration of bedrest (4- vs 6-weeks), first date of successful mobilization out of bed for 2 h, length of stay post-surgery, and occurrence of complications such as dehiscence or need for operative revisions.Results: Among 286 primary surgeries, 171 surgeries used the 4-week protocol and 115 used the 6-week protocol. When compared to the 4-week protocol, patients treated with the 6-week protocol were slightly older, more likely to have a diagnosis of diabetes, and less likely to be current smokers. Healing was never achieved after 4 surgeries in the 4-week group and 2 surgeries in the 6-week group. With the analysis restricted to a single surgery per subject who achieved healing (109 treated with 4-week protocol and 75 with 6-week protocol), there was a significant difference in days until 2-h sitting: median 54 days for the 4-week protocol compared to 60 days for the 6-week protocol (p = 0.041). Up to about 60 days post-operatively, the 4-week protocol produced a greater proportion remobilized to sitting, and thereafter the proportion of patients successfully remobilized did not differ between protocols.Conclusions: The 6-week protocol was not associated with improved remobilization outcomes (reduced rates of dehiscence or surgical revisions), and the 4-week protocol resulted in a significantly shorter time to remobilization to sitting for 2 h as well as a shorter length of stay. We did not identify any subgroup of patients that benefited from the longer protocol.

Keywords: Decubitus ulcer; Flap protocol; Flap surgery; Pressure injury; SCI; Spinal cord injury.