The rectus abdominis muscle has been one of the most commonly used donor tissues for free-flap reconstruction of defects in the extremities and in selected head and neck patients. The rectus abdominis has provided adequate soft-tissue mass with predictable anatomy and results for the majority of its applications in free-flap reconstruction. Harvesting of this muscle has typically been done through a paramedian or midline incision, which has left a lengthy notable scar on a patient's abdomen. To avoid the late aesthetic deformity associated with this typical approach for the rectus abdominis, we began harvesting the muscle through a Pfannenstiel incision. Patients were initially selected based on young age and limited soft-tissue requirements. With additional experience, this technique was extended to include all healthy patients regardless of age. Also, soft-tissue limitations no longer became an issue, as we learned the entire rectus abdominis muscle could be harvested from this approach. An extended Pfannenstiel incision was made from the ipsilateral anterior superior iliac spine to the lateral border of the contralateral rectus abdominis. A superiorly based flap was raised to expose the full length of the anterior rectus sheath from pubis to costal margin. In our earlier patients, a periumbilical incision was made for presumed easier access, but we discovered this was an unnecessary maneuver. With the anterior sheath fully exposed, the muscle was harvested and the sheath repaired in a routine manner. The elevated abdominal flap was returned to its anatomic position and closed over a suction drain. Since 1993, 10 patients have undergone a Pfannenstiel approach for harvesting of the rectus abdominis muscle. The mean age was 16. The areas requiring coverage included a traumatic elbow defect, seven traumatic lower extremity defects, one lower extremity sarcoma defect, and one lower extremity septic joint defect. Mean follow-up for these patients was 12 months. There were no flap failures. One patient developed an arterial thrombosis on postoperative day 5 and was treated with successful revision. There were no abdominal wall complications. Cosmesis was judged as good in all patients. We would recommend avoiding this approach in heavy or moderate smokers, diabetic patients, and patients with significant obesity. The Pfannenstiel approach to the rectus abdominis muscle has allowed for complete harvest of the muscle, improved aesthetic results compared with alternative techniques, and avoidance of donor-site morbidity in healthy patients.
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