Digital Replantations

Komatsu and Tamai performed the first successful replantation of a fully severed thumb in 1965. Since then, the field of digital replantation has evolved considerably. There has been extensive progress in terms of the development of suture materials, microsurgical instruments and microscopes. There are now organized microsurgical courses to specifically train surgeons to perform this type of surgery. This combined progress in microsurgical training of surgeons and equipment development has led to a steady improvement in success rates. Digital replantation is now performed regularly in specialized centers. The increase in number of cases has propelled the field forward and advanced its goals. Surgeons no longer just aim for the long-term survival of the finger. Instead, digital replantations are now planned with the aim of restoring global function to the patient’s injured hand.

Microsurgical Equipment


The basic microsurgical instrument tray should contain a needle holder, a pair of microscissors and two smooth fine-tip forceps. Modern instruments are counterbalanced. Instead of being short, they are long enough to rest in the surgeon’s first webspace. Rounded handles are preferred because this cylindrical shape allows for more precise handling of the instrument. The needle holder, for example, can be held like a pencil. This type of grip assists in the axial rotation of the instrument, which is necessary to guide the needle through the thin vessel walls of a digital artery ( Fig. 15.1 ). Microsurgical instruments should be protected in their own dedicated storage and sterilization case. They should be handled and cleaned only by specially trained operating room personnel.

Fig. 15.1

Titanium Microsurgical Instruments (Biover).

Left to right, Dissecting forceps; available in two different lengths depending on the depth of the operative field. The set of forceps equipped with microclaws is dedicated to nerve microsurgery. The needle holder is straight or curved; scissors are curved. All instruments have rounded handles (10-mm diameter) that allow a pencil grip and facilitate prehension and rotation.

Suture Materials

Monofilament nylon is the most common suture material used. It has the appropriate level of tissue reactivity and knot-holding ability for use in microsurgery. Microsutures are now available in different sizes and needle configurations. Three suture sizes (9-0, 10-0 and 11-0) on 50- to 100-µm taperpoint needles are sufficient to address all digital replantations. The needles are “3/8th of a circle,” which is an ideal shape for the repair of small vessels. Generally, repair of the palmar digital artery at the base of an adult finger is carried out with 9-0 monofilament nylon sutures with 100-µm needles, whereas 10-0 sutures with 75-µm needles are used for digital artery repair in the vicinity of the proximal interphalangeal (PIP) joint. All very distal digital artery anastomoses in the fingertip are performed with 11-0 sutures on 50-µm needles. This size of suture is suitable for repair of very thin-walled central pulp artery and pulp veins.

Accessory Instruments

Accessory Instruments: Irrigation Needles, Vessel Clamps, Backgrounds, Spears

Aside from the instruments and sutures, several items are helpful when performing microsurgery ( Figs. 15.2–15.4 ).

Fig. 15.2

Accessories for Vascular Microsurgery.

Blunt-tip irrigation needle (top) and disposable Biover vascular clamps (bottom).

Fig. 15.3

Surgeon’s Setup

Fig. 15.4

Microsurgical spears are cellulose sponges used to dry the surgical field under the microscope.

Blunt-tip needles (see Fig. 15.2, top ) are used for endoluminal flushing of the vessels. They are mounted on a syringe containing diluted heparin solution. It is possible to bend the needles to 60 degrees between the thumb and index finger without obstructing the lumen. This way the most ergonomically suitable instrument is obtained. When the syringe is held between the thumb and index finger of the person performing the surgery, the needle readily becomes oriented in the axis of the vessel. Alternatively, endoluminal irrigation can also be done with a 5-mL syringe mounted on a 24-gauge Angiocath.

Vascular clamps are used to temporarily occlude the vessel during surgery without damaging the vessel wall. Disposable single-use clamps are made of plastic and do not refract light. Vessel clamps are available as single or double clamps (see Fig. 15.2 , bottom ). Double clamps are two single clamps linked by a sliding bar and are used to help align and oppose the two vessel ends being repaired. These clamps are manipulated by mosquito forceps. Double clamps take up space and may not be useful when only short vessel ends are available for repair. For vessels 1 mm in size, closing pressure of the clamp should not exceed 30 g/mm.

A colored background or contrast is often used to isolate the vessel ends from surrounding tissue and blood. It improves visualization of vessel ends and facilitates handling of suture by preventing it from sticking to or getting lost in adjacent tissues. It can be made of any material (plastic or rubber) in contrasting color (green or blue) that is cut to size and slid under the vessel or nerve ends. The hands of the surgeon performing microsurgery are stabilized by resting the ulnar borders on a white-covered cushion. This cushion is assembled using a stack of drapes covered by a white penny towel. The white color facilitates visualization of the fine black sutures used (see Fig. 15.3 ).

Microsponges (“spears”) are also useful (see Fig. 15.4 ). The surgical field is often flooded by blood oozing from adjacent areas despite use of a tourniquet. Irrigation of vessel ends also causes pooling of fluid that complicates suture handling. Because suctioning is prohibited around fine vessels, these triangular and compact sponges provide a good substitute for the use of gauze.


The operating microscope provides the much-needed visualization that allows precise suture placement in 1- to 2-mm vessels ( Fig. 15.5 ).

Fig. 15.5

Operating Microscope

Two face-to-face optical systems allow the surgeon and his assistant to sit facing each other and work in the same operating field. Its positioning in the field is facilitated by a multijoint arm and a steady suspension system. Foot-controlled magnification and focusing help keep the operating field steady when shifting from high to low magnification, such as when shifting from needle insertion (requires high magnification) to knot tying (easier at low magnification). Sterile drapes are available to allow surgeons to position the optics at their desired spot.

Preservation of Amputate

Tolerance to Ischemia

Successful replantations of amputated fingers with cold ischemia time of 24–30 hours have been reported. This is made possible by proper preservation of the amputated part. The referring center must be given specific instructions on how the amputated finger should be transported. It can tolerate 6 hours of warm ischemia time and up to 12 hours of cold ischemia because it contains no skeletal muscle. Devascularized striated muscle undergoes irreversible cell damage after 4 hours in ambient temperature. It should be emphasized that cooling is currently the only effective method to increase tolerance to ischemia.


No time should be lost trying to clean the amputated finger prior to dispatch. A simple rinse with saline is enough. If saline is not available, such as at the accident site, the part should be placed directly into a sealed container. Cleaning can be performed once the patient and the part reach the hospital. Bleeding from the stump end is controlled by compression of the finger and hand elevation. A tourniquet is not necessary and is dangerous, especially if applied without any deliberate time monitoring. Blind ligation of vessels is also not advised; it may cause further vessel injury.


The amputate should be wrapped in a saline-soaked gauze and placed in a sealed container. The sealed container is then placed on ice. The amputated part itself should not be frozen or placed directly on ice to avoid freezing injury to its cells and microvasculature.

Surgical Team and Preoperative Preparation

Surgical Team

Once the patient and the amputated finger arrive in the emergency room, the replantation team should discuss with the patient the indications and contraindications for replantation. Each patient will have different functional demands, and it is the surgeon’s role to help the patient decide whether replantation should be attempted. Once decided, the replantation team can divide into two subteams. While one team is preparing the patient for surgery, the other team led by the performing surgeon takes the amputated part to the operating theater, where it is debrided and prepared. This preparation can be performed with the part continuously cooled by a sterile saline ice slush placed under layers of penny towels. One should remember to take an x-ray of the amputated finger to decide on the technique of shortening and fixation or fusion. Critical structures are tagged with small vascular clips to avoid frustration and save time later on. The team with the patient should assess the patient’s fitness for prolonged anesthesia and help the patient decide between general and regional anesthesia, keeping in mind that the operation can last for 4 to 6 hours for a single finger replant.


The vast majority of digital replantations can be performed under axillary block (see Chapter 1 ), with general anesthesia being reserved for very young children and for locoregional anesthesia failures. When the digital amputation has occurred in a young child, general anesthesia is the only option.

Microsurgical Techniques for Digital Replantations

Performing a digital replantation requires full mastery of the usual techniques for vascular and neural anastomosis. Again we emphasize that these are techniques that need to be learned in a laboratory setting.

Our objective is not to provide an exhaustive catalog of techniques available elsewhere, but to simply elaborate on those we have adopted and that are used daily.

As noted earlier, stabilization of the surgeon’s hands is ensured by a pack of drapes covered with a white surface like a penny towel. This allows the sutures to be found easily.

End-to-End Artery Anastomosis

Each arterial end is located and dissected. The vessel is handled with very fine straight forceps. Once a sufficiently long section of vessel is obtained on both sides, it is placed in a clamp. It is best to use a small version of a double Tamai clamp at its maximal deployment to bring the vessels ends together rather than setting the clamp jaws to a narrower position. This way a greater length of the vessel is available, which makes handling easier. Trimming of the artery is done using microscissors held perpendicular to the axis of the vessel. In the case of a clean-cut amputation, this trimming is only done to remove the contused wall of the vessel. The importance of taking great care when performing this will be seen with the treatment of digital avulsions.

At the end of this procedure, there will be a discrete gap between the ends that are to be repaired. This will allow the tension for tying the knots required to coapt the two ends together to be judged, and it will help with continuous visualization ( Fig. 15.6a ).

Fig. 15.6

Steps for End-to-End Anastomosis.

(a) Setup of the vessel in a double Tamai microclamp. A distance “X” must be maintained between the two ends to facilitate placing the sutures. (b) Adventicectomy. (c) Appearance after setup and adventicectomy. (d) “Equatorial” pull to obtain the luminal opening. (e) Dilation using the straight dissection forceps. (f) Irrigation of the vascular lumen with heparinized serum. (g) Placement of the first equatorial stitch at 6 o’clock (A). (h) Placement of the second anterior stitch at 12 o’clock (B). (i) Completion of the anterior stitch. Pulling on the guide sutures exposes the anterior hemicircumference. The stitches ( C and D ) are placed. (j) Exposure by reversal of the pull direction of the sutures. (k) Posterior hemicircumference. Suturing of the two stitches ( E and F ). The needle is inserted to perform stitch F before tying the knot for stitch E.


This follows after the clamp has been placed. It is performed with microscissors. A straight forceps takes hold of the adventitia close to the arterial end and is used to gently pull the adventitia along the axis of the vessel (see Fig. 15.6b ). A clean cut is then made perpendicular to the axis of the vessel. The adventitia is then allowed to retract freely. This single measure allows a circumferential adventicectomy to be performed in one go.


The adventicectomy sometimes causes the vascular lumen to be reopened. In some cases, however, it remains collapsed owing to the effect of having been crushed as an inevitable result of the cutting. The vessel appears flattened, and its lumen is linear. By exerting “equatorial” pull with two straight jeweler’s forceps, the luminal opening can be restored. One of the two jaws of the straight microdissection forceps can then be introduced gently, and progressive dilation can be performed (see Fig. 15.6d, e ). The lumen of the vessel is then irrigated copiously with heparinized saline (see Fig. 15.6f ).

Suture Placement

Digital replantation involves working with small-caliber vessels (diameters of 0.3–0.4 mm for most distal replantations). In light of the small vessel size, distribution of the stitches becomes highly important. Furthermore the cramped surgical field and the fragility of the vessel walls can prevent maneuvers that involve flipping the clamp or preclude their use altogether. We have therefore adopted a technique that can be used at all levels of digital replantation. It can readily be adapted for use with or without a clamp, helps with the distribution of stitches and limits maneuvers involving axial torsion of the vessels.

Eversion of the vessel allows placement of the first posterior stitch at 6 o’clock (see Fig. 15.6g ). This is knotted with one of the strands kept long; the second stitch is an anterior stitch placed symmetrically to the other at 12 o’clock. When the needle is placed through both walls without pulling it through, it is easy to ensure proper placement of the second stitch based on tension across the two hemicircumferences. If this tension is not symmetric, the second stitch should be repositioned and one of the sutures left long as a traction suture (see Fig. 15.6h ).

Once these two equatorial stitches have been placed, the two hemicircumferences are sutured one at a time. An axial torsion movement limited to 90 degrees suffices to successfully expose each of the two hemicircumferences without having to flip the clamp over (see Fig. 15.6i ). The surgeon and the assistant each grasp one of the traction sutures. The traction creates tension in the vessel wall and allows easier placement of the subsequent stitches. Axial torsion of the vessel is only possible if a sufficient length of vessel is held between the sets of jaws of the clamp. Two additional sutures on each of the hemicircumferences—in other words a total of six sutures—generally suffice for a digital artery. Once these two initial “lateral” stitches have been placed, the surgeon and assistant exchange their traction sutures, thereby exposing the other lateral hemicircumference. By inspecting the lumen, it is then easy to ensure that neither of the two prior knots have caught the opposite wall (see Fig. 15.6j ).

It will not be possible to control the last two sutures, because they will permanently occlude the lumen of the vessel. Upon putting in the fifth knot, the remaining luminal gap still allows introduction of a thin-tipped dissection forceps into the lumen. The fifth stitch is then passed between the tips of these forceps, thereby avoiding any engagement with the posterior wall. This will no longer be possible for the placement of the sixth stitch. Also, when a very small vessel is involved, we use a method aimed at preventing the risk of catching the opposite wall: after suturing the fifth stitch, it is not knotted. Instead the surgeon pulls on the suture until one end is just long enough to tie the knot. The needle then readily transfixes the two vascular walls again. The needle is temporarily left through the two vessel walls, and the fifth stitch is tied off. Once the ends of this stitch are cut, the knot for the sixth stitch can then be finished (see Fig. 15.6k ).

End-to-Side Anastomosis

In the setting of replantation, the only end-to-side anastomosis performed is when a vein graft is required for revascularization of the thumb to the radial artery. Our technique consists of performing the back wall anastomosis first. This has the advantage of ensuring that the lumen is patent until the last suture is placed ( Fig. 15.7 ).

Fig. 15.7

Steps for End-to-Side Anastomosis.

(a) The receiving vessel is clamped. The site of the arteriotomy is determined. (b) Arteriotomy is performed with microscissors or a microknife. (c) Placement of the first corner stitch. (d) Begin with the back wall. (e) Completion of the back wall. (f) Continue with the front wall.

End-to-End Vein Anastomosis

The principles stated above can apply to performing an end-to-end vein anastomosis. The difficulty here lies with the flaccidness of the wall, which makes identifying the lumen difficult. It is easier at times to work with the vein ends immersed in a pool of heparinized saline, particularly for very small veins. Here again, the distribution of the stitches is profoundly important.

Nerve Repair

Nerve repair techniques are presented in detail in Chapter 14 . Their technical execution does not have any particular requirements when it comes to replantations. In the event that primary end-to-end repair cannot be performed, primary nerve grafting should be done.

Preparation for Replantation

The indication for replantation is reviewed. Other prognostic factors that may influence the nature of the surgical intervention also need to be evaluated. These factors include time since the accident, duration of cold or warm ischemia and mechanism of injury.

Mechanism of Injury

Guillotine-Type Injury

Guillotine-type injuries that occur with industrial cutting blades and shearing devices are the most favorable type of mechanism for replantation. They are also the least commonly encountered type in our practice. With this type of injury, replantation is possible without the need to shorten the bone, as well as without the need for a graft. The expected functional recovery in such distal guillotine-type injuries is excellent, especially in children, who are able to achieve good sensory recovery.

Less-sharp devices cause amputations that are crushing in nature. Replantation will often require bone shortening and the possible use of grafts.

Amputation by Industrial Pressing Machines

These types of injuries are crushing and cause a wide zone of injury. Often there is extensive contamination of the wound, with areas of subepidermal bruising seen. In such a setting, replantation is not possible.


When the amputation occurs by a sudden violent pull along the axis of the finger, it is called an avulsion amputation. A ring avulsion injury is an example of this, but there are some industrial machines that can cause a similar type of injury in the absence of any band or ring on the finger. The extent of the injury is typical: the tendons are often ruptured at the musculotendinous junction of the forearm. The level of bony injury is variable and most commonly seen distal to the level of the soft tissue degloving injury. The prognosis of such amputations is poor and often necessitates the use of nerve and vein grafts. Despite the lack of bony injury, the extensive soft tissue component usually results in the finger being stiff.

Door Injuries

This mechanism of injury is crushing in nature. It is most commonly seen in children and can cause an amputation, often distal to the distal interphalangeal (DIP) joint. Despite the mechanism of injury, microsurgical replantation is often possible.

Surgical Preparation of the Amputate

This can begin before the patient is brought into the operating theater, thereby allowing for surgical preparation of the amputate as the regional block is administered. The amputate is gently scrubbed and irrigated with normal saline before bench work can commence ( Fig. 15.8 ).

Fig. 15.8

Preparation of Amputate.

(a) Longitudinal midlateral incisions. (b) Flexor tendon identified. (c) Superficial veins identified. (d) Digital arteries identified. (e) Digital nerves identified.

This preparation can be done with the use of surgical loupes. Bench work saves precious time, especially if there is multiple digit involvement. Preparation begins with soft tissue debridement. Longitudinal midline incisions are made, and skin flaps are retracted by the use of stay sutures. Thereafter, digital nerves and vessels are identified, tagged and dissected free. Nerves can be tagged with methylene blue and arteries with microclips. At this stage, flexor tendon repair can commence by the placement of a core suture. Tagging these critical structures is important for identification purposes. The vessels are prepared using a microscope after the completion of bench work and bone fixation. Dorsal veins are difficult to identify, especially over the middle phalanx and DIP joint, because they are collapsed. Therefore vein identification can be delayed until after one arterial anastomosis is completed, because the veins will be distended from back bleeding. After bench work is completed, the amputate can be placed in a surgical glove and placed back on ice.

Preparation of the Stump

Overall the procedures for preparation of the stump are similar to the preceding ones. Longitudinal midlateral incisions are made, soft tissue debridement is performed and digital nerves and vessels are identified.

Subsequently the proximal aspect of the retracted flexor tendon has to be retrieved from its sheath, and this should be performed before bone fixation is carried out.

Technique of Replantation at Middle Phalangeal Level

The best indication for a replant is when the level of amputation is distal to the PIP joint. When the mobility of this joint is maintained, the functional outcome is good.

Bone Shortening

Aside from some cases of perfectly clean-cut amputations, shortening the bone is routine prior to fixation. This will allow for tension-free repair of vessels, nerves and tendons, as well as enabling easier soft tissue coverage. Sufficient bone shortening allows for a primary anastomosis to be performed. There is no specific rule with regard to how much shortening is required. Depending on the injury, Wood recommends a shortening of 5–10 mm. The method of bone stabilization should be decided on prior to shortening, because it affects the nature and extent of the shortening required.

Even in the diaphyseal area, bone shortening has few functional consequences. If the replanted finger has reduced mobility, it is due to general postoperative factors rather than the shortening itself.

Bone Stabilization

Numerous techniques of bone stabilization have been suggested for replantation (see Chapter 7 ). Regardless of the method chosen, stabilization should be performed quickly, especially in the case of a multiple digit amputation. Care must always be taken to protect the neurovascular bundles during this process ( Fig. 15.9 ).

Fig. 15.9

Methods of Bone Stabilization.

(a) Fixation using crossed K-wires. (b) Fixation using an intramedullary K-wire and a cross-K-wire. (c) Fixation using cortical screws. (d) Fixation using a combination of cerclage wiring and K-wires.


The advantages of using a centromedullary pin or bilboquet are the speed of their implementation and the ability to block rotation by Kirschner (K) wires angled at 45 degrees. This method only works with medial diaphyseal amputations, in other words when there is sufficient proximal and distal endomedullary support.

K-wire fixation remains the most commonly used method. In general, two crossed wires are sufficient for fixation. When performing a K-wire fixation of an amputated digit, it is advisable for the wires to be introduced into the amputate first prior to fixation to the stump. This allows the wires to be placed with more control and with protection of the neurovascular bundles.

Screw fixation is rarely used and is mainly for cases where the amputation is oblique in nature.

Lister’s technique, cerclage wiring and K-wires, is a good method of bone fixation; however, care must be taken to ensure there is no malrotation of the replanted digit. Making a chevron osteotomy in both bone ends so as to then perform a fixation with screws or cerclage wiring is a long and perilous exercise that also entails difficulty with regulating rotation.

Fixation with plates and screws is another option. This technique of fixation has the advantage of allowing early mobilization; however, when used in replantation, this is rarely possible.

Regardless of the method chosen for bone stabilization, it must be stable enough to tolerate passive mobilization during the subsequent stages of replantation.


Although soft tissue debridement, bone shortening and stabilization are always done first in replantation, the subsequent steps can vary. We generally perform revascularization followed by nerve repair before repairing the tendons. This sequence has the advantage of allowing for easy positioning during surgery. Because no tendon repair has been performed prior to revascularization, the finger can be placed fully extended on the table. This allows for proper assessment of the neurovascular bundles and whether a graft is required before anastomosis can be performed ( Fig. 15.10 ).

Fig. 15.10

Operative Sequence of Digital Replantation.

(a) Bone shortening and stabilization. (b) Arterial anastomosis, nerve repair followed by flexor tendon repair. (c) Extensor tendon repair followed by vein anastomosis.

Number of Arteries to Be Repaired

In the case of a guillotine-type amputation where end-to-end anastomosis can be performed, both arteries should be repaired successively. The success rate of these replantations appears to be influenced by the number of arteries repaired. In the event vein grafting is required for anastomosis, grafting should be done on only one side. The side chosen for grafting depends above all on local conditions; the shortest graft required and an artery of good caliber represents the ideal solution. For the thumb, index and middle finger, the dominant artery is usually encountered on the ulnar side. The radial digital artery is dominant for the ring and little finger.

Vessel Preparation

Aside from avulsion amputations, resection of the artery aims to excise the contused end of the vessel until healthy intima is seen. This resection is performed perpendicular to the vessel before proceeding to perform the adventicectomy. The vessel is then irrigated with heparinized saline.


Upon completion of the preceding steps, the vessel is clamped and the anastomosis performed as described previously. After completion, release of the clamp often allows for assessment of the patency of the anastomosis without having to release the tourniquet. If the exsanguination was incomplete or if the tourniquet was applied for an extended period, the upstream blood in the lumen of the vessel freely flows back across the anastomosis, thus proving its patency.

Nerve Repair

The digital nerves are repaired at this stage. It should be kept in mind that the quality of the functional outcome will largely depend on the extent of reinnervation obtained. This repair is hence carried out with meticulous care according to the principles outlined in Chapter 14 . In the case of a defect a graft is required. When there is a multiple digit injury, an amputated finger that will not be reattached can become an excellent donor of nerve grafts or even vascularized nerve grafts (see Fig. 15.10 ).

Flexor Tendon Repair

The method of choice is the Tsuge technique. The Tsuge suture loop is placed initially on the ends of the flexor tendon during the stage where structures are being identified. After completion of both arterial and nerve repairs, the tendon ends are then coapted. When the amputation occurs at flexor zone 2, only the flexor digitorum profundus needs to be repaired. If shortening the bone results in a noticeably shortened replanted finger, the flexor tendons too should be resected till healthy ends are seen and primary repair performed. The use of a Meyer tendon trimming instrument optimizes the quality of this resection (see Fig. 15.10 ).

Upon finishing these steps the volar stage of replantation is completed. The skin is then loosely sutured to protect the structures that have just been repaired. The finger is then repositioned to allow for the dorsal stage to commence.

Extensor Tendon Repair

For an amputation at the level of the middle phalanx, extensor tendon repair of both the lateral bands should be performed using PDS suture. Minimal soft tissue dissection and exposure is required so as not to compromise the subsequent venous anastomosis (see Fig. 15.10 ).

Vein Repair

When the dorsal veins have been identified, performing the anastomoses with a tourniquet is more straightforward. In some cases, particularly with distal replantations, locating the veins on the amputate is not possible unless the tourniquet is released. Once the veins to be repaired have been identified, raising the tourniquet again is warranted to assist the anastomosis (see Fig. 15.10 ).

When an end-to-end anastomosis cannot be performed without tension, a vein graft needs to be used. It is preferable to anastomose two veins for each artery. However, beyond this quota, increasing the number of venous anastomoses only decreases the blood flow through each of them and thereby increases their risk of thrombosis.

Skin Coverage and Dressings

Once the venous anastomoses are completed, the tourniquet is released. The patency of the arterial anastomosis allows revascularization of the digit and the return of capillary refill to occur. Meticulous hemostasis with a bipolar diathermy must be performed prior to skin closure. This hemostasis selectively coagulates the returning veins, which have not been subject to any anastomosis, thereby ensuring the rerouting of venous flow through the repaired veins.

The skin is loosely approximated with tension-free sutures. The midlateral incisions are often not closed so as to allow decompression of the digital vessels. A local flap or split-thickness skin graft may be necessary if primary closure is not possible. Gauze is placed on the finger, ensuring that the dressings are not circumferential, and thereafter it is covered by longitudinally placed moistened dressings that help drain fluids through capillary action. This layer helps prevent the wounds from becoming macerated. A cotton bandage is then loosely applied while a backslab is placed to prevent any unintended movement of the replanted finger. This form of dressing ensures that the pulp of the finger can be visualized for postoperative monitoring.

Specific Replantation Scenarios

Troublesome Revascularizations During Replantations

Use of Vein Grafts

When the resection of severed artery ends results in a gap that makes primary end-to-end anastomosis impossible, a vein graft must be used. From a prognostic point of view, vein grafting is preferable over an anastomosis under tension or anastomosis performed in an area of contusion, because these lead to thrombus formation. We have already seen that in this case a single digital artery is to be repaired. The local conditions dictate which side represents the best choice for the revascularization. It is critical to determine the length of vein graft required; underestimation of the extent of vascular injury will result in a graft that is too short. If the graft is too short, tension at the anastomotic site will be present or insufficient arterial resection will occur, thereby leading to thrombus formation. Conversely a graft too long needlessly causes sacrifice of a healthy segment of vessel, and there are risks of thrombosis inherent to the length. At the level of the fingers, assessment of the artery can only be done by examination under the microscope. The resection must be clean, with a normal luminal opening and intimal layer. There must be no delamination between the various layers of the vessel wall. The same criteria apply for the assessment of the proximal arterial end. It is, however, possible to make use of a test based on the release of the tourniquet. Spurting blood flow is an indication of a good arterial resection. In the absence of flow or poor outflow, steps to reduce vascular spasm (eg, Xylocaine, warm saline, Fonzylane) and the elimination of all general causes (eg, vasoconstriction, hypothermia, low blood pressure) should be attempted before proceeding with a more proximal resection.

The volar aspect of the forearm is commonly used as a donor site for superficial vein graft harvesting ( Fig. 15.11 ). The use of venae comitantes of the deep arteries (eg, radial or ulnar artery) has been considered, with their main advantage being the thinness of their intimal layer. However, the difficulty in access and of dissection has always resulted in superficial veins being harvested instead. All vein grafts should be marked and reversed prior to anastomosis because of the valves present.

Fig. 15.11

Vein Grafting Steps for Replantation.

(a) Identification of superficial venous system of the volar forearm. 1, Superficial cephalic vein; 2, superficial basilic vein; 3, superficial volar venous network of the forearm; 4, incision marked. (b) Skin incision and vein graft harvesting by ligation of branches. (c) Reversal of the graft followed by irrigation with heparinized saline.

Once harvested, these vein grafts retract considerably, and it is this retraction that makes it difficult to determine a suitable length. With a bit of practice it is possible to harvest grafts of the exact length required, purely based on their tension once placed in the clamp.

At first, it is nonetheless best to measure the length of the graft required prior to proceeding with harvesting. Thereafter the graft should be measured in situ before it is divided.

The second practical problem is the size mismatch encountered between the vein graft and the artery. Upon performing the proximal anastomosis, it is usually possible to progressively and carefully dilate the vein graft. It is during the distal anastomosis that the greatest difficulties linked to size mismatch are encountered. When a long vein graft is used for an anastomosis at the level of the DIP joint, the palmar digital artery is often 1.5–2 times smaller than the proximal end of the vein graft harvested. We no longer use the technique of oblique cutting of the vein graft ends to change its effective diameter. On the other hand, we abstain from vein graft dilation prior to beginning the anastomosis, and particular care must be taken with the spacing of the sutures while performing the anastomosis. Another approach is to be aware of such a mismatch in advance and to hence locate a more appropriately sized venous branch for the graft. The end-to-end anastomosis is then performed with the venous branch, and the main trunk is ligated.

Occasionally a crossed vein graft may be necessary based on the local tissue conditions ( Fig. 15.12 ). This occurs when the proximal and distal arterial ends for anastomosis are on opposite sides. It is important that this is highlighted clearly in the operative report because future surgical interventions need to take the presence of this graft into consideration. In particular, tenolysis of the flexor tendons will become exceptionally risky when performed in the presence of a crossed vein graft.

Mar 27, 2019 | Posted by in ORTHOPEDIC | Comments Off on Digital Replantations

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