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Microvascular free flap coverage for salvage of the infected total knee arthroplasty

a triumph of technique over reason?

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The integrity of the soft tissue envelope is crucial for successful treatment of infected total knee arthroplasty (TKA). The purpose of this study was to evaluate the rate of limb salvage, infection control, and clinical function following microvascular free flap coverage for salvage of the infected TKA.


We retrospectively reviewed 23 microvascular free tissue transfers for management of soft tissue defects in infected TKA. There were 16 men and seven women with a mean age of 61.2 years (39 to 81). The median number of procedures performed prior to soft tissue coverage was five (2 to 9) and all patients had failed at least one two-stage reimplantation procedure. Clinical outcomes were measured using the Knee Society Scoring system for pain and function.


In all, one patient was lost to follow-up prior to 12 months. The remaining 22 patients were followed for a mean of 46 months (12 to 92). At latest follow-up, four patients (18%) had undergone amputation for failure of treatment and persistent infection. For the other 18 patients, 11 patients (50%) had maintained a knee prosthesis in place while seven patients had undergone resections for persistent infection but retained their limbs (32%). Reoperations were common following coverage and reimplantation. The median number of additional procedures was two (0 to 6). Clinical function was poor in patients who underwent reimplantation and retained a knee prosthesis following free flap coverage with a mean KSS score for pain and function of 44 (0 to 70) and 30 (0 to 65), respectively. All patients required an assistive device. Extensor mechanism problems and extensor lag requiring bracing were common following limb salvage and prosthesis reimplantation.


Microvascular tissue transfer for management of infected TKA can be successful in limb salvage (82%) but clinical outcomes in salvaged limbs were poor.

Cite this article: Bone Joint J 2020;102-B(6 Supple A):176–180.

Correspondence should be sent to Gwo-Chin Lee. E-mail:

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