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Skin Flap Surgery

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Jan 5, 2023.

Skin flap surgery is done to cover a deep or large open wound, or repair damaged skin. A skin flap is a portion of skin that is moved from one area of the body to another. The area the skin flap will be taken from is called the donor site. One end of the skin flap often remains attached to the donor site and to its blood supply. The other end of the skin flap is moved to cover the wound. Skin flaps and their blood vessels may be completely removed from the donor site and connected to blood vessels at the flap site.


Call your local emergency number (911 in the US) for any of the following:

  • You feel lightheaded, short of breath, or have chest pain.
  • You cough up blood.

Seek care immediately if:

  • Your arm or leg feels warm, tender, and painful. It may look swollen and red.
  • Something is bulging out from your flap site.
  • You have severe pain that does not go away in the flap site.
  • Blood soaks through your bandage.
  • Your wound or donor site has blood, pus, or a foul-smelling odor.

Call your doctor or surgeon if:

  • You have a fever.
  • You have nausea or are vomiting.
  • Your skin is swollen, has a rash, or it itches.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.


  • Prescription pain medicine may be given. Ask your healthcare provider how to take this medicine safely. Some prescription pain medicines contain acetaminophen. Do not take other medicines that contain acetaminophen without talking to your healthcare provider. Too much acetaminophen may cause liver damage. Prescription pain medicine may cause constipation. Ask your healthcare provider how to prevent or treat constipation.
  • NSAIDs , such as ibuprofen, help decrease swelling, pain, and fever. NSAIDs can cause stomach bleeding or kidney problems in certain people. If you take blood thinner medicine, always ask your healthcare provider if NSAIDs are safe for you. Always read the medicine label and follow directions.
  • Antibiotics may be given to prevent a bacterial infection.
  • Take your medicine as directed. Contact your healthcare provider if you think your medicine is not helping or if you have side effects. Tell your provider if you are allergic to any medicine. Keep a list of the medicines, vitamins, and herbs you take. Include the amounts, and when and why you take them. Bring the list or the pill bottles to follow-up visits. Carry your medicine list with you in case of an emergency.

Care for you wound as directed:

  • Keep your surgery area clean and dry. When you are allowed to shower, carefully wash the flap and donor sites with soap and water. Dry the area gently and put on new, clean bandages as directed. Change your bandages when they get wet or dirty.
  • Limit movements , such as stretching or pulling the skin area. This will help prevent bleeding, shearing, and swelling in the wound and flap sites.
  • Protect the flap site from direct sunlight for at least 6 months. If your skin appears dry and scaly, keep it moist by applying lotion. Ask your healthcare provider which type of lotion you may use on your skin.


  • Elevate your flap site above the level of your heart as often as you can. This will help decrease swelling and pain. Prop your lap site on pillows or blankets to keep it elevated comfortably.
  • Rest when you feel it is needed. Slowly start to do more each day. Return to your daily activities as directed.
  • Eat healthy foods that are high in protein. This will help improve wound healing. Foods high in protein include poultry (turkey and chicken), meat, eggs, beans, and dairy (milk, cheese, yogurt). Ask your healthcare provider for more information about a high-protein nutrition plan.

Follow up with your doctor or surgeon as directed:

You may need to return to have your flap site checked, stitches removed, and bandage changed. Write down your questions so you remember to ask them during your visits.

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The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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