Background and Objectives: Retrograde free venous flaps represent a separate entity among free venous flaps: their physiology is still unclear, but they provide an immediate visible refill after reconnection, with a similar behaviour to conventional flaps. Therefore, the dimensions and the indications of these flaps can be extended beyond what was previously believed, and they can be easily customized, including with respect to tendons and nerves. Nevertheless, they are still debated and regarded as unsafe.
Materials and Methods: From 2012 to 2019, we performed 31 retrograde free venous flaps on 31 patients to reconstruct hands, digits, and in one case the heel. All the flaps were arterialized in a retrograde manner; the donor site was the forearm in 28 cases, the foot in 2 cases, and the calf in 1 case. We recorded the size, vein architecture, donor site, donor artery, donor morbidity, function for composite and non-composite flaps, immediate complications, late complications, survival rate, and the number of revisions. We recorded the hand function when appropriate. A total of 10 flaps were also intraoperatively studied with indocyanine green to monitor their hemodynamical behaviour.
Results: All the patients were followed for an average of 8 months (6-15). The flap dimensions ranged from 6 cm2 to 136 cm2. All the flaps, except two that had complete necrosis, survived. Two flaps had partial necrosis. There was no correlation between necrosis and the size of the flap, with one case of necrosis and one of partial necrosis in the small flaps (<10 cm2). None of the cases with partial necrosis needed a new flap. Two flaps developed a late arterio-venous shunt that was ligated.
Conclusions: The retrograde free venous flaps proved to be a useful tool for complex reconstructions of the hand and extremities. They can provide a large island of pliable skin and composite tissue with tendons and nerves, but surgeons must be aware of some caveats.