Skin graftsand flaps

Using this guide What's covered

Here you’ll find the answers to many of your questions about skin graft and flap surgery. Learn how it works, what it may cost, what your recovery may be like, and more.

To see how the surgery is done, view our animation below.

Cost indicator

Discover the typical out-of-pocket costs HCF members can expect to pay for skin graft and flap surgery and learn how your choice of doctor and hospital affect that cost.

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Learn about skin grafts

This short animation shows how skin can be taken from a donor site and grafted onto a damaged site.

The basics

What are skin grafts?

A skin graft is a procedure where healthy skin is taken from one area of the body (the donor site) and transplanted to a non-healed wound or area of skin loss (the recipient site). Skin grafts can be ‘split thickness grafts’ or ‘full thickness skin grafts’. Some commonly used areas for donor sites are the legs, upper arm, forearm, buttocks and neck. 

What are skin flaps?

A skin flap is similar to a graft in that tissue is transplanted. The essential difference is that a flap has its own blood supply. With a flap, larger amounts of tissue can be used, including muscle if required. The surgical skill to harvest and move this tissue is complex. The surgeon has to harvest not just the block of tissue to be moved, but also the blood vessels (arteries and veins) that feed the tissue block. Compared to a graft, a flap requires more planning and more surgical skill.

Why is it done?

Skin grafts and flaps can be used to treat several conditions. The most common are:

  • extensive trauma
  • chronic wounds
  • severe burns
  • areas of prior infection
  • reconstructive surgery following major surgery for cancer.

Where's it done?

Simple skin grafts and flaps can be done as same-day surgery. More complex procedures are done in an overnight hospital.

How long does it take?

It varies enormously depending on the type, size and situation. A simple skin graft may take less than an hour, while a complicated flap could take as long as 10–12 hours.

Who's involved?

In addition to a plastic and reconstructive surgeon, it also involves:

  • an assistant surgeon (possibly)
  • an anaesthetist
  • nurses
  • a physiotherapist/occupational therapist.

The details

Considering surgery

Alternatives to skin graft and flap surgery

Options that may delay your need for skin graft and flap surgery

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Types of skin grafts and flaps

There are 2 types of graft and several types of flap

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Results vs. risks of the surgery

The benefits and potential complications of skin graft and flap surgery

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Choosing a specialist

How to find a surgeon who performs skin graft and flap surgery

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Questions for your doctor

What you should be asking before going ahead with skin graft and flap surgery

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Preparing for your surgery

What you need to do before surgery

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Your anaesthetic options

About the anaesthetic and post-op pain relief.

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Going to hospital

What to expect on the day of your surgery

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Your surgery

What happens in the operating theatre?

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After your surgery

What happens before you go home

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Important information

Information is provided by HCF in good faith for the convenience of members. It is not an endorsement or recommendation of any form of treatment nor is it a substitute for medical advice, and you should rely on the advice of your treating doctors in relation to all matters concerning your health. Every effort has been taken to ensure the accuracy of the information, however HCF takes no responsibility for any injury, loss, damage or other consequences of the use of this information.