Introduction Complex lower limb vascular injuries (CLVIs) in high-energy penetrating or blunt trauma are associated with an unacceptably high incidence of complications including amputation. Traumatic ischaemia and ischaemia-reperfusion injury (IRI) of skeletal muscle often lead to limb loss, the systemic inflammatory response syndrome (SIRS) which affects remote organs and even the potentially fatal multiple organ dysfunction syndrome (MODS). Surgical care of CLVIs everywhere, including Northern Ireland until 1978, was governed by an anxiety to restore arterial flow quickly often using expedient and flawed repair techniques while a damaged major vein was frequently ligated. Materials and methods A new policy centred on early intraluminal shunting of both artery and vein, restoring arterial inflow and venous outflow, respectively, was introduced at the Regional Vascular Surgery Unit of The Royal Victoria Hospital, Belfast in 1979. It imposed a disciplined one-stage comprehensive approach to treatment involving a sequence of operative manoeuvres in which all damaged anatomical elements receive meticulous and optimal attention unshackled by time constraints. Results Comparisons drawn between the pre-shunt period of unplanned treatment (1969–1978) and the post-shunt period centred on the use of shunts (1979–2000) showed that early shunting of both artery and vein in both penetrating (P) and blunt (B) injuries significantly reduced the necessity for fasciotomy (P: p=0.016, B: p=0.02) and caused a significant fall in the incidence of contracture (P: p=0.018, B: p=0.02) and of amputation (P: p=0.009, P: p=0.012). Conclusions The policy of early shunting of artery and vein in CLVIs has proved to be of great benefit in terms of significantly improved outcomes, better operative discipline and harmonious collaboration among the specialists involved.