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Mil Med. 2018 Mar 26. doi: 10.1093/milmed/usy022. [Epub ahead of print]

Wartime Soft Tissue Coverage Techniques for the Deployed Surgeon.

Author information

Department of Surgery, University of Nevada School of Medicine, 1701 W Charleston Blvd, Suite 490, Las Vegas, NV 89102.
99 th Medical Group, Mike O'Callaghan Federal Medical Center, 4700 N, Las Vegas Blvd, Nellis AFB, NV 89191.
Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, Albert Einstein Medical Center, 5501 Old York Road, Philadelphia, PA 19141.
99th Medical Group, Mike O'Callaghan Federal Medical Center, 4700 N, Las Vegas Blvd, Nellis AFB, NV 89191.



Since the start of the conflict in the Middle East in 2001, military orthopedic surgeons have faced complex orthopedic injuries including high-energy soft tissue wounds, traumatic amputations, and open fractures. Although orthopedic surgeons are well trained in the management of osseous injuries, the treatment of soft tissue injuries can be technically challenging and unfamiliar. Early washout, debridement of devitalized tissue, external fixation of bony injuries, and antibiotic therapy remain the foundation of early wound management. However, these unique extremity injuries have no standard plan of care, and definitive treatment options continue to evolve. The following report highlights the typical cases seen in the wartime setting and offers possible solutions for the associated soft tissue injuries.


A single orthopedic surgeon at a Role 3 combat support hospital performed all cases in this series. This study is a report of the cases that the orthopedic surgeon encountered while deployed and the various techniques that can be used to manage the complex wounds seen in a deployed setting.


Twelve patients were included in this report and the data are shown. Of the 12 patients, 6 were injured by an improvised explosive device (IED), 4 were injured by a high-velocity gunshot wound (HVGSW), 1 was injured by a gunshot wound (GSW), and 1 was injured in an auto versus pedestrian motor vehicle crash. The wound sizes ranged from 10 to 300 cm2. All patients required more than one irrigation and debridement before wound closure. There was a successful outcome in 11 of the 12 patients. The only patient without a known successful outcome was lost to follow up. Six patients were treated with split thickness skin graft (STSG) alone. Four patients were treated with STSG plus an additional means of coverage. One patient was treated with a random flap and one patient was treated with a full thickness skin graft. Integra was used in two of the patients. Each of the patients in whom integra was used had exposed bone and had a successful outcome with respect to tissue coverage.


This study details different soft tissue coverage techniques that must be learned and possibly employed by the deployed surgeon. Limitations of this study include its retrospective nature and the selected sampling of cases. At initial presentation, the management of war wounds secondary to high-velocity gunshot wounds and improvised explosive devices can be quite daunting. Adhering to firm surgical principles of thorough and meticulous debridement is the foundation of later soft tissue reconstructive options. Once the tissue is deemed clear of infection and contamination, there are myriad treatment options utilizing flaps, synthetic materials, and skin grafting. These are relatively straightforward techniques that the general orthopedic surgeon can utilize while deployed in a combat setting. In the end, it is critical for deployed surgeons to learn multiple techniques to provide definitive soft tissue coverage in a wartime theater.


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