Background: Low-velocity pelvic gunshot injuries occur commonly in urban trauma centers, occasionally involving concomitant intestinal viscus injury leading to potential fracture site contamination. Surgical debridement of the fractures may be necessary to prevent osteomyelitis, although not routinely performed in many centers. The purpose of this study was to determine whether fracture debridement should be done to prevent osteomyelitis in these injuries.
Methods: A 5-year retrospective review of all patients older than 12 years with low-velocity gunshot pelvic fractures was performed at an urban Level I trauma center. Medical records and radiographs/computed tomographic scans were reviewed, and data regarding fracture location, concomitant intestinal viscus injury, orthopedic surgical intervention, antibiotic treatment, and bone and/or joint infection were recorded.
Results: Of a total of 103 patients identified, 19 had expired within 48 hours and were excluded, resulting in a total of 84 study subjects for review. Fifty of 84 patients (59%) had a perforated viscus with 31 large bowel injuries and 30 small bowel injuries. Eighteen patients (21%) had intra-articular fractures, 15 of which involved the hip joint. Orthopedic surgical fracture debridement was done only in intra-articular fractures with retained bullet fragments (seven cases). Deep infection occurred in one patient with a missile injury to the hip joint with concomitant intestinal spillage. Immediate joint debridement was performed in this case, but successful missile fragment removal was not achieved until the second debridement after 48 hours. No infections occurred in any extra-articular fractures, regardless of the presence of intestinal spillage.
Conclusions: Extra-articular gunshot pelvic fractures do not require formal orthopedic fracture debridement even in cases with concomitant intestinal viscus injury. However, debridement with bullet removal should be done in cases with intra-articular involvement, particularly if there are retained bullet fragments in the joint, to prevent deep infection.