Vascularized fibular grafts for the treatment of long bone defects: pros and cons. A systematic review and meta-analysis

Arch Orthop Trauma Surg. 2023 Jan;143(1):29-48. doi: 10.1007/s00402-021-03962-5. Epub 2021 Jun 10.


Purpose: To quantify union rate, complication rate, reintervention rate, as well as functional outcome after vascularized fibular bone grafts (VFGs) for the treatment of long-bone defects.

Methods: A comprehensive search was performed in the PubMed, Web of Science, and Cochrane databases up to August 18, 2020. Randomized controlled trials, comparative studies, and case series describing the various techniques available involving VFGs for the reconstruction of segmental long-bone defects were included. A meta-analysis was performed on union results, complications, and reinterventions. Assessment of risk of bias and quality of evidence was performed with the Downs and Black's "Checklist for Measuring Quality".

Results: After full-text assessment, 110 articles on 2226 patients were included. Among the retrieved studies, 4 were classified as poor, 83 as fair, and 23 as good. Overall, good functional results were documented and a union rate of 80.1% (CI 74.1-86.2%) was found, with a 39.4% (CI 34.4-44.4%) complication rate, the most common being fractures, non-unions and delayed unions, infections, and thrombosis. Donor site morbidity represented 10.7% of the total complications. A 24.6% reintervention rate was documented (CI 21.0-28.1%), and 2.8% of the patients underwent amputation.

Conclusions: This systematic review and meta-analysis documented good long-term outcomes both in the upper and lower limb. However, VFG is a complex and demanding technique; this complexity means an average high number of complications, especially fractures, non-unions, and vascular problems. Both potential and limitations of VFG should be considered when choosing the most suitable approach for the treatment of long-bone defects.

Keywords: Bone implant; Free graft; Long-bone defects; Pedicled; VFG; Vascularized fibular grafts.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Systematic Review
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Bone Transplantation / methods
  • Fibula / surgery
  • Fractures, Bone* / surgery
  • Humans
  • Lower Extremity / surgery
  • Plastic Surgery Procedures*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Treatment Outcome