Nerve Coaptation Improves the Sensory Recovery of the Breast in DIEP Flap Breast Reconstruction

J. Beugels, E. Bijkerk, A. Luaster, E.M. Heuts, R.R.W.J. van der Hulst, S.M.H. Tuinder*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

5 Citations (Web of Science)


Background: Restoring the sensation of the reconstructed breast has increasingly become a goal of autologous breast reconstruction. The aim of this study was to analyze the sensory recovery of the breast and donor site of innervated compared to noninnervated deep inferior epigastric perforator (DIEP) flap breast reconstructions, to assess associated factors, and to compare the differences between preoperative and postoperative sensation.

Methods: A prospective cohort study was conducted, including patients who underwent innervated or noninnervated DIEP flap breast reconstruction between August of 2016 and August of 2018. Nerve coaptation was performed to the anterior cutaneous branch of the third intercostal nerve. Preoperative and postoperative sensory testing of the breast and donor site was performed with Semmes-Weinstein monofilaments.

Results: A total of 67 patients with 94 innervated DIEP flaps and 58 patients with 80 noninnervated DIEP flaps were included. Nerve coaptation was significantly associated with lower mean monofilament values for the breast (-0.48; p < 0.001), whereas no significant differences were found for the donor site (-0.16; p = 0.161) of innervated compared to noninnervated DIEP flaps. Factors positively or negatively associated with sensory recovery of the breast and donor site were identified. Preoperative versus postoperative comparison demonstrated significantly superior sensory recovery of the breast in innervated flaps (adjusted difference, -0.48; p = 0.017).

Conclusions: This study demonstrated that nerve coaptation in DIEP flap breast reconstruction significantly improved the sensory recovery of the breast compared to noninnervated flaps. The sensory recovery of the donor site was not compromised in innervated reconstructions. The results support the role of nerve coaptation in autologous breast reconstruction.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)273-284
Number of pages12
JournalPlastic and Reconstructive Surgery
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2021



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