Fracture-related infection (FRI) is a severe post-traumatic complication which can be accompanied with a soft-tissue defect or an avital soft-tissue envelope. In these cases, a thoroughly planned orthoplastic approach is imperative since a vital soft-tissue envelope is mandatory to achieve fracture union and infection eradication. The aim of our study was to analyse plastic surgical aspects in the management of FRIs, including the type and outcome of soft-tissue reconstruction (STR), and to investigate the long-term outcome of FRI after STR.
Patients with a lower leg FRI requiring STR that were treated from 2010 to 2018 at our center were included in this retrospective analysis. STR involved the use of local, pedicled and free flaps. The primary outcome was the success rate of STR, and the secondary outcome was long-term fracture consolidation and cure of infection.
Overall, 145 patients with lower leg FRI were identified, of whom 58 (40%) received STR. Muscle flaps were applied in 38, fascio-cutaneous flaps in 19 and a composite osteo-cutaneous flap in one case. All patients underwent successful STR (primary STR in 51/58 patients, 7/58 patients needed secondary STR). A high Charlson Comorbidity Index Score was a significant risk factor for flap failure (p=0.011). Patients with free-flap STR developed significantly more severe complications and needed more surgical interventions (Clavien-Dindo ≥IIIa; p=0.001). Out of the 43 patients that completed long-term follow-up (mean 24 months), fracture consolidation was achieved in 32 and infection eradication in 31. Polymicrobial infection was a significant risk factor for fracture non-union (p=0.002). American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA) classification of 3 or higher (p=0.040) was a risk factor for persistence or recurrence of infection.
In our population, 58/145 patients with FRI required STR. STR was successful in all patients eventually, in 7/58 patients secondary STR was necessary. Therefore, STR should be sought even if primary STR fails. Despite successful STR, the long-term composite outcome showed a high rate of failed fracture consolidation and failed eradication of infection, which was independent of primary STR failure.