INTRODUCTION: Early postoperative compression of free flaps for lower limb reconstruction remains controversial. It may reduce venous congestion and promote the resolution of oedema. However, concerns remain regarding inadvertent pedicle compression, which may lead to flap failure. The aim of this systematic review was to determine the safety and effectiveness of this intervention. METHODS: A systematic review was designed in compliance with PRISMA. MEDLINE and EMBASE databases were searched. Parallel screening, selection of eligible studies, and data gathering were carried out by two independent authors. A formal risk of bias assessment was included along with the appraisal of outcomes. RESULTS: A total of 847 abstracts were retrieved and 262 free flaps for lower limb reconstruction were identified in ten eligible articles. The overall flap failure rate for patients who underwent early postoperative compression was 1.6%. Apart from flap failure rates, there were no other outcomes consistently reported and none of the studies included a no-compression group for comparison. DISCUSSION: All included studies had methodological flaws, resulting in a high risk of bias. Nevertheless, there was consistent reporting of flap failure as a postoperative outcome. Compression of free flaps in the context of lower limb reconstruction does not appear to be associated with a higher flap failure rate compared with other series. Compression bandages may reduce the pain associated with dangling regimes. However, there is no evidence to support that free flap compression in the context of lower limb reconstruction is associated with any other clinical benefit.
J Plast Reconstr Aesthet Surg