History of lower limb reconstruction after trauma


  • M. Wagels BMedSci, MBBS; D. Rowe MBBS, FRACS; S. Senewiratne MBBS, FRACS; D. R. Theile MBBS, MS, FRACS.
  • Michael Wagels is RACS-CONROD Trauma Fellowship recipient 2010.
  • This paper was presented at the RACS Annual Scientific Congress 2010, Perth.
  • This study was generously supported by the 2010 RACS-CONROD Trauma Fellowship and the NHMRC.


Dr Michael Wagels, Department of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, Princess Alexandra Hospital, Ipswich Road, Woolloongabba, QLD 4102, Australia. Email: michaelwagels@hotmail.com



The principles guiding reconstruction of the lower limb after trauma have become established over 300 years through advances in technology and studies of epidemiology. This paper reviews how these principles came about and why they are important.


This is a structured review of historical and recent literature pertinent to lower limb reconstruction. The outcomes assessed in the pre-modern era were wound mortality, amputation mortality and amputation rate. In the modern era, infection and non-union emerged as measures of outcome, which are morbidity- rather than mortality-based. Indications for amputation published during the eras are taken to reflect the reconstructive practices of the time.


Amputation and wound mortality fell throughout the pre-modern era, from 70% and 20% to 1.8% and 1.8%, respectively. Amputation rates peaked in the American Civil War (53%) but have remained less than 20% since then. Infection and non-union rates in the modern era have fluctuated between 5% and 45%.


Priority areas for research include refinement of soft tissue reconstruction, injury classification, standardization of outcome measures and primary prevention. The impact of débridement and antisepsis on outcomes should not be forgotten as progress is made.