1.  Introduction

2.  What is a graft?

3.  Why are they done?   

4.  What do they involve? 

5.  Will the donor site be painful? 

6.  Do I have to stay in bed? 

7.  How long will it take the donor site to heal?

8.  Do I need to take any special precautions?  


1.  Introduction

This information has been designed to help you understand grafts and flaps and contains answers to many frequently asked questions. 

If you have any questions or would like further explanation about your treatment, please ask one of the Team.

2.  What is a graft?

A graft is a piece of tissue removed from one area (called the “donor site”) and transferred to another part of the body (the “recipient site”). The common grafts are skin grafts and muscle grafts often referred to as flaps. Nerves and blood vessels may also be grafted.

3.  Why are they done?

Most grafts are used replace damaged tissue after surgical removal (for tumours) or accidents ( such as burns).They may also be used to fill a cavity (hole) left following tumour removal.

4.  What does it involve?

Whilst you are under the anaesthetic, the tissue will be removed from the donor site and placed into the recipient site.

Skin grafts are usually taken from the thigh or abdomen, but it can be removed from other areas of the body. The doctor will advise you of the site before your operation.  The skin is usually put onto the recipient site at the time of surgery.  Occasionally it may be applied on the ward 24‑48 hours after surgery.

Muscle grafts may be taken from a wide range of sites dependent on the particular requirements in each case. Common muscle grafts ( also known as flaps ) are from the chest, back and arm. In some situations more than one graft is required.

5.  Will the donor site be painful?

The donor site can be more painful than the operation site, particularly after skin grafting.  This is because the area acts like a large “graze” on the skin. You will be given regular painkillers to relieve the pain. The pain will gradually start to improve after a week. 

6.  Do I have to stay in bed?

This depends on the type of surgery you have had, however, you may be confined to your bed for a short period.  This can be discussed with your surgeon.

7.  How long will it take the donor site to heal?

If a skin graft has been taken from your leg, there will a large padded dressing on your thigh (from where the skin graft has been taken the donor site). The outer bandage is left on for at least 24-48 hours to provide protection.  After about 14 days, it is advisable to sit in a warm bath for 20 minutes to soak off the dressing.  Once the wound has dried to the air, then apply E45 cream to keep the wound moist and supple.

Avoid pressure on this area (heavy bed covers, pyjamas, and trousers) to avoid discomfort.  A pair of shorts may be better for you to prevent clothing rubbing on the wound.  There will be skin discolouration at the site, and this will gradually lighten over months.

8. Do I need to take any special precautions?

The donor site should be protected from injury and direct sunlight.  Keep it covered for the first year and then protect it with sun block thereafter.

Contact Us
UCH Head and Neck Services
If you have any questions, please contact us at University College Hospital.

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