Authors of section


Brian Burkey, Neal Futran

Executive Editors

Gregorio Sánchez Aniceto, Marcelo Figari

General Editor

Daniel Buchbinder

Open all credits

Anterolateral thigh fasciocutaneous free flap

1. Introduction

In those patients who do not wish to, or are medically unable to have this defect restored with a bone containing vascularized flap, soft tissue alone can be used.

This type of reconstruction effectively fills the space and seals the palate but does not fully support the orbit. Furthermore, reconstruction with soft tissue flaps will not support a functional dental restoration.

If the defect involves external cheek skin, the soft tissue can be fashioned to restore this area as well. This flap can be adapted to restore any length of the horizontal component of the defect.

It is critical that the surgeon pays strict attention to the vascular pedicle geometry as it passes through the tunnel in the cheek leading into the neck.

Reconstruction of midface Brown III defect: Obturator

2. Approach

For this procedure the Weber Ferguson approach to the midface is utilized.

Reconstruction of midface Brown II defect

3. Resection

Incision of the palate

An incision is made along the midline of the palate, extending posteriorly and lateral to the maxillary tuberosity. This can be done with a surgical blade or a needle tip cautery.

Reconstruction of midface Brown III defect: Obturator


A sagittal saw is used to make an osteotomy through hard palate and one to two teeth beyond the tumor margin, to the nasal floor. The nasal mucosa can either be preserved or excised depending on the involvement of the tumor. The nasal septum is typically able to be preserved.

Reconstruction of midface Brown III defect: Obturator

One tooth may be removed for easier access, but is usually not necessary.

Reconstruction of midface Brown III defect: Obturator

A malleable retractor is placed along the orbit to protect the globe.

The next osteotomy is made lateral to the nasal bone into the orbital floor.

Reconstruction of midface Brown III defect: Obturator

A malleable retractor is maintained along the orbit to protect the globe.

The osteotomy is then extended along the floor to the medial aspect of the zygoma.

Reconstruction of midface Brown III defect: Obturator

A sagittal saw is then used to osteotomize the zygomatico maxillary junction.

Reconstruction of midface Brown III defect: Obturator

Posteriorly a fine curved osteotome is used with the curvature pointing downwards to complete the cut, and to separate the posterior maxilla from the pterygoid plates.

Reconstruction of midface Brown III defect: Obturator

Pitfall: An upward oriented osteotome will not reliably separate the posterior maxilla and palate from the pterygoid. It is also associated with increased danger of bleeding from the pterygoid plexus and internal maxillary artery.

Reconstruction of midface Brown III defect: Obturator

Tumor delivery

The remaining soft tissues are incised with electrocautery and the tumor is delivered.

The specimen is submitted en bloc for permanent pathological examination.

Surgical margins are now checked with frozen sections to ensure the adequacy of the tumor resection.

Reconstruction of midface Brown III defect: Obturator

Preservation of lacrimal drainage

Because the lacrimal system is interrupted, the punctae are intubated with a silicon lacrimal tube and left in the nasal cavity for at least six weeks (Dacrocystorhynostomy).

Reconstruction of midface Brown III defect: Obturator

4. Reconstruction

Reconstruction of the orbital floor

The orbital floor can be reconstructed in the same fashion as in a trauma case.

An example of a trauma case with orbital floor reconstruction can be found here.

When a mesh is used, it can be extended over the missing zygoma and face of the maxilla to improve facial contour.

Reconstruction of midface Brown III defect: Anterolateral thigh free flap


The anterolateral thigh free flap is harvested in the standard fashion with the following considerations:

  • An adequate sized flap should be harvested to overcorrect the defect as atrophy of the tissue may occur over time
  • The vascular pedicle should be followed to its origin to obtain maximal pedicle length
Reconstruction of midface Brown III defect: Anterolateral thigh free flap

Trimming of soft tissue flap

The midportion of the flap is de-epithelialized. One segment is used to restore the palate and the other to restore the nasal lining and fill the maxillary defect.

Reconstruction of midface Brown III defect: Rectus abdominis free flap

Insetting of the flap

The flap is rotated into its preplanned position with care not to create undue torsion within the pedicle.

Reconstruction of midface Brown III defect: Rectus abdominis free flap

The vascular pedicle is positioned to pass through the tunnel in the pterygoid region to anastomose to the recipient vessels in the neck. The use of a silicone tube could be helpful in order to protect and avoid pedicle rotation during the passing.

Reconstruction of midface Brown III defect: Rectus abdominis free flap

The palatal portion is sutured to the sublabial mucosa (laterally) and cut edge of the palate (medially) with resorbable suture to create a water tight seal, before or after the microvascular anastomosis has been completed.

Reconstruction of midface Brown III defect: Rectus abdominis free flap

The nasomaxillary portion of the flap can be sutured to holes drilled in the nasal bone and through holes in the titanium mash used for the reconstruction of the orbital floor and rim.

Reconstruction of midface Brown III defect: Rectus abdominis free flap

If it is necessary to restore an external cutaneous defect, an additional portion of the flap can be de-epithelized to have a separate soft tissue component for this purpose. The skin defect is closed with deep resorbable sutures.

Reconstruction of midface Brown III defect: Rectus abdominis free flap

5. Revascularization of flap

The detailed procedure for the revascularization is outside the scope of this surgery reference. However, in short the procedure consists of the following steps:

  • A neck incision is made and the appropriate recipient vessels are selected in the neck and dissected so as to be available for anastomosis
  • Creation a tunnel from the ptyerigoid region to the neck incision lateral to the mandible of adequate size for the passing of the vascular pedicle
  • A coronoidectomy is often helpful to widen the tunnel adequately
  • The recipient and the donor vessels adventitia are cleaned under a microscope
  • Appropriate vessel geometry is assured and the vessels are placed into a microvascular clamp and anastomosis carried out eg. using 9-0 nylon sutures
  • Vascularization is restored after both arterial and venous anastomoses are completed
  • For adequate vessel length to create the anastomoses (without tension), vein grafts are sometimes necessary
Reconstruction of midface Brown III defect: Obturator

6. Rehabilitation following midface resection and reconstruction


The use of the following perioperative medication is controversial. There is little evidence to make strong recommendations for postoperative medications.

  • Analgesia as necessary
  • Antibiotics (many surgeons use perioperative antibiotics). There is no clear advantage of any one antibiotic but evidence supports their use for 24h. The spectrum should be according to the existing bacterial flora, especially in the combined intra and extra cranial procedures.
  • Steroids may help with postoperative edema.
  • Regular perioral and oral wound care has to include disinfectant mouth rinse, lip care, etc.
  • Antibiotic ointment is used on the wounds for 72 hours
  • If a free flap is utilized for the reconstruction, 100 mg of aspirin/day is recommended.

Wound care

Remove sutures from skin after approximately 7 days if nonresorbable sutures have been used. If the patient has had previous radiation, the sutures should be left in for 10 – 14 days.
Moisturizing lotion should be used on the skin wounds to minimize excessive scarring after sutures are removed.

Avoid sun exposure and tanning to skin incisions for several months.


Diet depends on the reconstructive method. For patients who have obturators placed, initial liquid diet followed by a soft diet as tolerated is initiated after surgery.

For patients with free flap reconstruction of the maxilla, a feeding tube is placed during sugery allowing the patient to be kept nil per os for 5-7 days. If issues develop with velopharyngeal insufficiency or dysphagia, assessment by a speech and swallowing rehabilitation specialist may be indicated. When the lateral nasal wall is reconstructed, especially when a bulky soft tissue flap is used, the nasal airway should be stented with gauze packing or a merocel sponge for five days.

Clinical follow-up

Typically the patients are seen in clinical follow-up one week after discharge, and then on a weekly basis until such time the clinician determines that less frequent follow ups are needed.

Oral hygiene

Patients with intraoral incisions and/or wounds must be instructed in appropriate oral hygiene procedures. A soft toothbrush (dipped in warm water to make it softer) should be used to clean the surfaces of the teeth. Chlorhexidine oral rinses should be prescribed and used at least 3 times a day to help sanitize the mouth. For larger debris, a 1:1 mixture of hydrogen peroxide/chlorhexidine can be used. The bubbling action of the hydrogen peroxide helps remove debris.

Reconstruction with obturator

For individuals reconstructed with a maxillary prosthesis, the surgical packing is left for seven to ten days postoperatively. The patient will need to remain on appropriate gram positive antibiotic coverage over that time.

Upon returning to clinic, the patient is seen by the maxillofacial prosthodontist and the obturator and the packing are removed, the cavity is cleaned and inspected and the patient is then started on frequent nasal saline irrigations and home humidification. The obturator is modified as needed and replaced.

Over time, the maxillary prosthesis can be altered to best fit the evolving defect.

Reconstruction with free flap

When a free flap is utilized, it should be regularly monitored to ensure vascular integrity. Physical examination, assessing the flap color, turgidity, and capillary refill should be routine for at least the first 48 hours postoperatively. Hand-held Doppler probes can be used to assess blood flow. In case of doubt of the vitality of the flap, pin-prick assessment with a 25 gauge needle to look for bright red bleeding.. In cases of buried flaps, an implantable Doppler placed just distal to the venous anastomosis can be utilized

Radial forearm free flap
The radial forearm free flap donor site should be closed with a skin graft and a bolster placed over the area. The arm is then cast or placed in a volar splint for 7 days prior to removal to ensure graft take. If bone is taken and the radius plated, appropriate follow-up with an orthopedic or hand specialist should be arranged.

Fibula free flap
After a fibula free flap, the donor lower leg should be cast with the ankle slightly dorsiflexed for 5 days. The patient can touch-down their body weight as tolerated. After the cast is removed they can ambulate and work with physical therapy to optimize leg function. A splint should be placed to keep the foot flexed when in bed.

Scapula free flap
Flaps from the subscapular system require no particular rehabilitation care but closed suction drains should remain until a minimal output is still draining to avoid seroma formation.

Rectus abdominous and iliac crest
Rectus abdominous and iliac crest donor sites require that the patient not strain or lift heavy objects for at least 4 weeks to avoid hernia formation.

Anterolateral thigh
Patients should avoid climbing stairs for 2-4 weeks after surgery. They should also be observed for seroma formation at the wound bed.

Furthermore, patients often need physical therapy to rehabilitate the donor site.