There exist varying reports in the literature regarding the incidence of compartment syndrome (CS) after intramedullary (IM) fixation of pediatric forearm fractures. A retrospective review of the experience with this treatment modality at our institution was performed to elucidate the rate of postoperative CS and identify risk factors for developing this complication.
In this retrospective case series, we reviewed the charts of all patients treated operatively for isolated radius and ulnar shaft fractures from 2000 to 2009 at our institution and identified 113 patients who underwent IM fixation of both-bone forearm fractures. There were 74 closed fractures and 39 open fractures including 31 grade I fractures, 7 grade II fractures, and 1 grade IIIA fracture. If the IM nail could not be passed easily across the fracture site, a small open approach was used to aid reduction.
CS occurred in 3 of 113 patients (2.7%). CS occurred in 3 of 39 (7.7%) of the open fractures compared with none of 74 closed fractures (P=0.039), including 45 closed fractures that were treated within 24 hours of injury. An open reduction was performed in all of the open fractures and 38 (51.4%) of the closed fractures. Increased operative time was associated with developing CS postoperatively (168 vs. 77 min, P<0.001). CS occurred within the first 24 postoperative hours in all 3 cases.
CS was an uncommon complication after IM fixation of pediatric diaphyseal forearm fractures in this retrospective case series. Open fractures and longer operative times were associated with developing CS after surgery. None of 45 patients who underwent IM nailing of closed fractures within 24 hours of injury developed CS; however, 51.4% of these patients required a small open approach to aid reduction and nail passage. We believe that utilizing a small open approach for reduction of one or both bones, thereby avoiding the soft-tissue trauma of multiple attempts to reduce the fracture and pass the nail, leads to decreased soft-tissue trauma and a lower rate of CS. We recommend a low threshold for converting to open reduction in cases where closed reduction is difficult.