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BACKGROUND: The mainstay of treatment for venous ulceration is conservative wound management and lifelong compression therapy. For patients with recalcitrant ulcers, free flap reconstruction has been proposed as a treatment option to reconstruct the diseased soft tissues as well as the underlying insufficient venous system. This review systematically evaluates the outcomes of free flap reconstruction for chronic venous ulcers in the lower limb. METHOD: A protocol was developed a priori and registered on the PROSPERO database. A systematic search of literature was performed in MEDLINE, EMBASE, the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL), clinical trials registries, and OpenGrey from inception to April 2020 according to PRISMA (Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses) guidelines. Studies of patients undergoing free tissue transfer reconstruction for chronic venous ulcers in the lower limb were included. RESULTS: A total of 5 noncomparative cohort studies featuring 56 patients with 62 recalcitrant venous ulcers treated with 64 free flaps who had a mean age of 50 years (range, 17-76 years) were included, and a narrative analysis undertaken. Mean defect size following ulcer debridement was 153.3 cm 2 (range, 24-600 cm 2 ). Defects were reconstructed with muscle (n = 39 [60.9%]), fasciocutaneous (n = 23 [35.9%]), and visceral (n = 2 [3.1%]) free flaps, with latissimus dorsi (n = 16, 25%) and rectus abdominis flaps (n = 16, 25%) being the most frequently used. Mean follow-up ranged from 24 to 125 months. Pooled flap survival rate was 95%. No recurrence within the territory of the flap was reported, but there were 20 instances (35.7%) of new ulcers outside of the flap boundaries. CONCLUSION: There is currently an absence of evidence to support the use of free flap reconstruction for recalcitrant venous ulcers compared with conventional management. Although evidence suggests that it is technically feasible, there is no evidence to suggest it prevents ulceration outside the reconstructed region. Further studies are necessary to evaluate its effectiveness for venous ulcers in the lower limb.

Original publication




Journal article


Ann plast surg

Publication Date





331 - 335


Free Tissue Flaps, Humans, Lower Extremity, Middle Aged, Reconstructive Surgical Procedures, Ulcer, Varicose Ulcer