Use of gracilis muscle free flap for reconstruction of chronic osteomyelitis of foot and ankle.

Published online: Jun 27 2001

Loréa, Vercruysse, Coessens,

Department of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, University, Hospital Brugmann, 4, Place Van Gehuchten, 1020 Bruxelles, Belgium.


Despite low donor-site morbidity and a straightforward dissection, the gracilis muscle flap is still for many surgeons a second choice in microsurgical reconstruction of the lower extremity in cases of osteomyelitis. They underscore the difficulty of the procedure, and the problems of insufficient muscle volume and a small sized vascular pedicle. The aim of this study was to assess the reliability of the gracilis muscle free flap in the treatment of osteomyelitis of the foot and ankle. Between 1992 and 1999, 12 consecutive cases (age 9 to 71 years) of osteomyelitis of the foot and ankle were treated using a skin-grafted gracilis free muscle flap. Criteria for osteomyelitis were the presence of exposed bone, positive cultures and bone scans. The wound defect surface ranged from 9 to 90 cm2 (mean 50.5 cm2). Six flaps were applied on the weight bearing area of the foot. Flap harvesting time never exceeded 30 minutes. The mean follow-up is 15 months (range 2 to 60 months). All flaps survived completely. Secondary skin grafts were needed in two cases. One hematoma was noted at the flap donor site. Two patients (18%) had persistent osteomyelitis due to insufficient debridement in the presence of what appeared to be extensive bone involvement. Attempt to salvage the extremity was first performed but ultimately led to amputation. No patients complained of any donor site morbidity. Failure to cure the osteomyelitis was never caused by inadequate flap coverage. Gracilis muscle flap reliability in terms of vascular supply and ease of dissection made it our first choice in osteomyelitis of the foot and ankle. In the presence of extensive bone involvement, complex bone reconstruction is necessary to avoid amputation.