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