Though success will largely depend on the extent of a patient’s injury, flap surgery and microsurgery have vastly improved a plastic surgeon’s ability to help a severely injured or disfigured patient. Using advanced techniques that often take many hours and may require the use of an operating microscope, plastic surgeons can now replant amputated fingers or transplant large sections of tissue, muscle or bone from one area of the body to another with the original blood supply intact.
A flap is a section of living tissue that carries its own blood supply and is moved from one area of the body to another. Flap surgery can restore form and function to areas of the body that have lost skin, fat, muscle movement, and/or skeletal support.
A local flap uses a piece of skin and underlying tissue that lies adjacent to the wound. The flap remains attached at one end so that it continues to be nourished by its original blood supply, and is repositioned over the wounded area.
A regional flap uses a section of tissue that is attached by a specific blood vessel. When the flap is lifted, it needs only a very narrow attachment to the original site to receive its nourishing blood supply from the tethered artery and vein.
A musculocutaneous flap, also called a muscle and skin flap, is used when the area to be covered needs more bulk and more robust blood supply. Musculocutaneous flaps are often used in breast reconstruction to rebuild a breast after mastectomy. This type of flap remains “tethered” to its original blood supply.
In a bone/soft tissue flap, bone, along with the overlying skin, is transferred to the wounded area, carrying its own blood supply.
A microvascular free flap is a section of tissue and skin that is completely detached from its original site and reattached to its new site by hooking up all the tiny blood vessels.