Most skin grafts and flaps are successful, but some don’t heal well.
Patient satisfaction with the results of a skin graft or flap varies depending on the location, size, type and site of the graft or flap.
A skin graft or flap usually improves the wound site, and it may also prevent complications associated with burns or wounds that won’t heal. Recovery is normally rapid. New blood vessels usually begin growing into the transplanted skin within 36 hours.
The most common post-operative problem is bleeding. Some bleeding at the donor site is common and doesn’t indicate a major problem unless it persists.
Graft or flap failure
If the blood supply isn’t adequate, your graft or flap may not adhere, or it may die. Sometimes swelling reduces the blood supply. This is especially true for grafts on your arm or leg, which need to be kept elevated for most of the time until the healing process is underway. Some people need to have a second graft or flap because the first one doesn’t take.[iii]
Another complication is a build-up of blood, called a haematoma. This problem needs special attention and advice from your surgeon.
Increasing pain, redness, swelling, a discharge from the dressing and/or an unpleasant smell may be signs that that your wound is infected. It’s usually treated with dressings and antibiotics.
Discolouration, shrinkage and tightness
Discolouration or scarring can occur in the grafted tissue or at the donor site. Sometimes the skin shrinks, causing tightness that can lead to long-term problems, especially if it reduces the range of motion of a joint.
Dry skin and lack of sensation
Split-thickness skin grafts don’t contain sweat glands or oil glands and may have reduced nerve endings. So they may have reduced sweating as well as feeling dry, itchy and/or numb.