First results with the immediate reconstructive strategy for internal hardware exposure in non-united fractures of the distal third of the leg: case series and literature review
The cases of 15 patients are presented where microvascular soft-tissue reconstructions became necessary after internal fixation of tibial fractures. Primarily, seven of the fractures were closed. Eleven fractures had originally been treated by open reduction and internal fixation using plates and screws, and four by intramedullary nailing. All of the patients suffered from postoperative complications leading to exposure of the bone or fixation material. The internal fixation material was removed and radical revision of dead and infected tissue was carried out in all cases. Soft tissue reconstruction was performed using a free microvascular muscle flap (11 latissimus dorsi, three rectus abdominis, and one gracilis). In eight cases the nonunion of the fracture indicated external fixation. The microvascular reconstruction was successful in all 15 patients. In one case the recurrence of deep infection finally indicated a below-knee amputation. In another case, chronic infection with fistulation recurred postoperatively. After a mean follow-up of 26 months the soft tissue coverage was good in all the remaining 13 cases. All the fractures united. Microvascular free muscle flap reconstruction of the leg is regarded as a reliable method for salvaging legs with large soft-tissue defects or defects in the distal leg. If after internal fixation of the tibial fracture the osteosynthesis material or fracture is exposed, reconstruction of the soft-tissue can successfully be performed by free flap transfer. By radical revision, external fixation, bone grafting, and a free flap the healing of the fracture can be achieved.