During recent years, clinical research on the donor site morbidity after free or pedicled transverse rectus abdominis myocutaneous (TRAM) flap surgery has been focusing on the reduced flexion capacity of the abdominal wall. However, the rectus abdominis muscles have close interactions with their synergists and antagonists and collaborate with their neighbouring muscles. The purpose of this study was to examine the consequences of partially resecting the rectus abdominis muscle on the different muscle groups of the abdominal wall. Twenty free TRAM flap patients, 12-61 months (mean 32.1 months) after surgery, were clinically examined, evaluated for curl-up performance and underwent isokinetic dynamometry for flexion, extension and rotation. The patients were compared with 20 non-operated controls. Nineteen patients answered a questionnaire. Abdominal wall abnormalities occurred in 10 patients: umbilical asymmetry (n = 3), abdominal wall asymmetry (n = 4), lower abdominal bulging (n = 2) and hernia (n = 1). Curl-up performance was less in the TRAM flap patients (P = 0.001, Mann-Whitney). Isokinetic flexion, extension and rotation were also less in the TRAM flap patients (Fisher's exact test). This study indicates that what has been believed to be 'limited' surgical damage to the abdominal wall leads to an important reduction in flexion strength but to an even more important reduction of rotation strength due to bilateral displacement and damage of the insertion of the oblique muscles. Partial compensation by synergists is variable and unpredictable on an individual basis. These functional disorders can potentially lead to important changes in activities of daily life.