Authors of section

Authors

Nicolas Homsi, Paulo Rodrigues, Gregorio Sánchez Aniceto, Beat Hammer, Scott Bartlett

Executive Editors

Edward Ellis III, Eduardo Rodriguez

General Editor

Daniel Buchbinder

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Radial forearm free flap

1. Introduction

This type of reconstruction effectively obliterates the space and separates the oral cavity from the sinonasal cavity.

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.

The radial forearm flap is a practical option for the reconstruction this defect.

2. Reconstruction

Recipient site preparation

The mucosa at the edge of the defect is trimmed to allow for flap inset.

radial forearm free flap

Harvesting of radial forearm free flap

The radial forearm free flap is harvested in the standard fashion with the following considerations:

  • An adequate sized flap should be harvested to obliterate the defect and overlap the antral floor.
  • Maximal vascular pedicle length should be obtained.
radial forearm free flap

Insetting of the flap

The flap is placed into the defect with care not to create undue torsion to the vascular pedicle.

radial forearm free flap

The vascular pedicle is tunneled through the cheek to reach the recipient neck vessels. The use of a silicone tube could be helpful to protect and avoid pedicle rotation during tunneling.

radial forearm 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.

maxilla alveolar defects

3. 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 of 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 may be 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
radial forearm free flap

4. Aftercare following corrections of secondary deformities of the alveolus and palate

Medication

  • 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 oral and paranasal sinuses.
  • 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 skin incision (when indicated) for 72 hours.

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 abdominis and iliac crest
Rectus abdominis 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.

Wound care

Remove sutures from skin after approximately 7 days if non resorbable sutures have been used. 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

Diet depends on the correction method.

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.

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.

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.