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Use of the Talon Hip Compression Screw in Intertrochanteric Fractures of the Hip

Bramlet, Dale, G

Section Editor(s): Strauss, Elton MD

Clinical Orthopaedics and Related Research: August 2004 - Volume 425 - Issue - p 93-100
doi: 10.1097/01.blo.0000132628.90667.e6
SECTION I: SYMPOSIUM: Geriatrics in Orthopaedics

A retrospective analysis of a compression hip screw with four reversibly deployable talons was done. Fifty-four patients had sufficient radiographs to be included in this analysis. One-year mortality was 17% and increased to 41% by 2 years. No lag screws cut out, and postoperative slide was reduced compared with that in many published series. Three patients had revision of a failed alternate-type hip pin with the Talon hip compression screw. Previous studies showed the talons provide the definitive difference in allowing enhanced compression at the time of surgery, preventing cut-out by enhanced rotational stability, and allowing immediate postoperative weightbearing without excessive limb shortening. The failure mode of the Talon compression hip screw seems to be side-plate loosening rather than varus deformity and lag screw cut-out. The Talon compression hip screw especially is effective with weak, osteoporotic bone and in unstable, three-part and four-part fractures. A previous study showed that Talon deployment notably improved interfragment compression and torsional strength, and that engagement or penetration into or through the cortical bone at the base of the femoral head-neck junction in the inferior lag screw position was the critical technical step to maximize the talon lag screw purchase.

From All Florida Orthopaedic Associates, St. Petersburg, FL.

The device that is the subject of this manuscript is FDA approved.

Funded in part by Orthopedic Designs Incorporated, St. Petersburg, FL. The author has stock and options in the company.

Correspondence to: Dale Bramlet, MD, All Florida Orthopaedic Associates, P.O. Box 76359, St. Petersburg, FL 33734. Phone: 727-369-5030; Fax: 727-369-5069; E-mail:

Guest Editor

The advantages of treatment by open reduction and internal fixation (ORIF) for intertrochanteric fractures of the proximal femur are known. Rigid internal fixation with interfragmentary compression permits early mobilization and reduces patient morbidity and mortality.40,47,57,69 The hip compression screw allows the fracture site to collapse on itself as patients ambulate versus having the lag screw erode through the bone and penetrate into the hip.1,34,50,67 With excessive lag screw slide, the threads of the lag screw impinge against the barrel, effectively converting a sliding screw into a fixed angle device.7,73 Sliding mainly occurs during the first 2 postoperative weeks, and excessive sliding has been associated with a delay in union of the fracture52 and lag screw cut-out.73 Technical failure, defined as loss of fixation, loosening of the lag screw, excessive slide, varus deformity, and/or cut-out of the screw with hip penetration may occur in 4–19% of patients.10,51,65,70

Unstable fractures with a large posterior spike of bone and/or medial comminution particularly are challenging, and medial displacement,29,31 valgus osteotomies,13,24,61 and less invasive technologies21,32,33 have been proposed for restoring stability. Anatomic reduction and rigid internal fixation with a compression screw plate system currently is the technique preferred by investigators.12,19,25,30,63 Larsson et al39 reported that 30–65% of all intertrochanteric fractures were unstable. With weak osteoporotic bone, with reverse obliquity, and in unstable, comminuted three-part and four-part intertrochanteric fractures, varus angulation of the fracture fragments, failure of fixation, and joint penetration rates of 8–50% have been reported.28,36,43,49

The Talon hip compression screw incorporates a reversibly deployable series of four talons that protrude from the base of the threads of the lag screw (Fig 1). The talons are designed to engage in the cortical bone at the base of the femoral head-neck junction in the inferior portion of the femoral head. A previous biomechanical study showed that engagement of the talons into the dense cortical bone serves to considerably enhance the purchase of the lag screw within the femoral head. Even in instances where the talons have been subjected to supraphysiologic forces, they can be completely reversed within the lag screw for subsequent removal, if necessary.8 The talons effectively double the purchase strength of the lag screw in the femoral head, enabling the surgeon to tighten the compression screw with greater force without the lag screw stripping out. Furthermore, the talons triple the resistance to peak torque forces between the femoral head and the lag screw, and considerably prevent migration of the lag screw subjected to torsional forces. By increasing the amount of bone engaged by the screw, particularly the dense cortical bone at the base of the femoral neck, theoretically it should resist joint penetration by increasing the column of bone necessary for a lag screw to penetrate through before perforating the femoral head and entering the hip.

Fig 1.

Fig 1.

Because the final location of the lag screw relative to the femoral head geometry has been shown to be substantial in terms of failure,2,3,5,16,18,27,68 the location of the lag screw in the femoral head was measured to assess migration. In cases of severe osteoporosis, excessive tightening of the compression screw can lead to a stripping of the thread purchase in the bone of the femoral head and subsequent loss of fixation. Increasing the strength of attachment of the lag screw in the femoral head (or the purchase of the lag screw) can enable greater compressive forces to be applied across the fracture site. With appropriate lag screw length choice, greater initial compression at the fracture site should result in less settling of the lag screw, and therefore, less chance of lag screw thread–barrel engagement.45,60 The purpose of this study was to investigate the clinical performance of a compression hip screw with four reversibly deployable talons.

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All patients with hip fractures treated in one orthopaedic group practice with the Talon hip compression screw during the year 2000 were reviewed. Of the 81 patients who received the device, eight were excluded because they died within 3 months postoperatively. An additional 12 patients were excluded because they did not meet radiographic criteria, which were defined as postoperative radiographs within the first 5 days after surgery, followup radiographs at 6 and 12 weeks, and final radiographs. Nine patients had femoral neck fractures and were excluded. Fifty-four patients had sufficient data to be included in this analysis.

Radiographs taken at final followup (or at the time of union if followup radiographs could not be obtained) were compared with initial postoperative films. Radiographic data were analyzed using four criteria: sliding of the lag screw, distance from lag screw tip to superior femoral cortex, distance from lag screw tip to femoral head apex, and femoral neck-shaft angle.

Radiographs (Fig 2) were analyzed using digital calipers, loupe magnification, and correction for radiographic magnification. Magnification correction was by measurement of the distance of three thread peaks (TL), corresponding to a known distance (9.53 mm). The correction factor formula was as follows:

Fig 2.

Fig 2.

Fractures were classified using a modified Evan’s classification system.22,23,38 The degree of osteoporosis was calculated using the Singh index, which classifies trabecular bone structure in the proximal femur.37 Grades 1–3 were considered osteoporotic. All measurements and classifications were made by a single observer (DB). The percentage of opposable bone of the major proximal fragment and the distal shaft in the AP and lateral radiographic planes was estimated.

Data were analyzed using SPSS, version 11.0 (SPSS, Inc, Chicago, IL). Differences between postoperative and followup radiographs were analyzed using a paired samples t test.

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The analysis of patient demographics revealed an elderly population with osteoporosis predominantly displaced fractures. There were 16 men and 38 women in the study. The average age of the patients at the time of fracture was 78 ± 18 years (range, 10–99 years). Clinical followup ranged from 1 to 3 years. Sixty-four percent of the patients were classified as having osteoporosis according to the Singh index (25%, 18% 21% 11%, 5%, and 11% classified as index 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, respectively). Nine percent could not be indexed because of inadequate radiographs of the contralateral uninjured hip. There were 28 right and 26 left fractures. Fracture classifications included two-part (34%), three-part (32%), four-part (17%), and intertrochantericsubtrochanteric (17%) fractures. Ninety-five percent of the fractures were displaced and 38% were unstable. Reduction apposition of major fragments averaged 92 ± 12%.

Comparison of measurements revealed minimal change in the position of the lag screw at followup. The difference in the means of the data sets were clinically insignificant for change in the relative position of the lag screw in the femoral head or loss of reduction angle, even in fractures in osteoporotic bone (Table 1).6,36,46,52 Compression obtained at the time of fracture fixation resulted in minimal subsequent lag screw slide (average, 5.8 mm). Results from the current study showed substantially less slide than in other series,36,52 reflecting the enhanced compression obtained at the time of fracture fixation. Postoperative slide increased in unstable, Evan’s Type 4 and 5 fractures (Table 2).

Table 1

Table 1

Table 2

Table 2

Final functional assessments at an average of 17 months followup showed that 69% of patients who were unlimited community ambulators preoperatively retained their prefracture ambulatory status. All 54 patients were followed until radiographic union. Final followup at a minimum of 1 year was done to assess the patients’ return to prefracture status. No patients with intertrochanteric fractures had osteonecrosis develop. One patient had a refracture after a second fall 16 months later and healing was achieved after repinning (Fig 3). Three patients had revision of a failed alternate-type hip pin with a Talon compression hip screw. No patients with intertrochanteric fractures had cut-out of the lag screw, and all patients except one achieved healing. This patient, who had quadriplegia, had resection of the proximal femur for overwhelming sepsis 7 days postoperatively. Mortality rates were 17% at 1 year (average age, 88 years) and increased to 41% at 2 years.

Fig 3.

Fig 3.

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Numerous authors have addressed ideal positioning of the lag screw in the femoral head to maximize purchase of the screw and to minimize the risk of cut-out.44,65,71 Based on biomechanical data,8 inferior placement of the lag screw in the lower portions of the femoral head is recommended, because this results in greater purchase of the lag screw regardless of whether the talons are deployed. Technical experience with this product has shown that one of the critical factors maximizing the purchase of the lag screw in the femoral head is engagement of the talons in the dense cortical bone at the junction between the femoral head and the neck.8

The mechanism of failure accounting for lag screw cut-out and subsequent pin penetration is multifactorial. Gill et al26 reported that high stresses in the surrounding cancellous bone contribute to the failure of repairs. Failure to compress the fracture site fully has been accompanied by excessive slide of the lag screw, which has been shown to be associated with a poor functional outcome.6 The advantages of enhanced compression across the fracture site have been cited by numerous authors.41,42,55 Excessive slide, presumably associated with poor initial compression, has been shown to prolong time to union of operatively treated intertrochanteric fractures.52 Before the introduction of a hip pinning system with talons, few were designed to prevent rotation forces between the lag screw and the proximal femoral bone. Hip bolt procedures have been advocated by some to increase the purchase of the device in the femoral head,59 whereas others have advocated the use of intramedullary nails.4,9,14,15,35,56,66 However, the hip compression screw remains the most popular method of treatment of these often challenging fractures.17,20,46,53,58,74 There are no comparative studies to date testing different commercially available hip pinning systems with and without hip pins with talons.

Thread length and screw designs vary among manufacturers and have been shown to be important factors in preventing cut-out in biomechanical testing of hip compression screws.62,64 The average thread-length of the Talon lag screw is longer, and the major diameter of the threads is larger than most standard, commercially available products. Biomechanical data have shown that the talons are the key element, allowing a doubling of compression forces at the time of internal fixation of a stable, two-part intertrochanteric fracture.8

Some current hip pinning systems do not adequately address rotational or torque forces that occur between the femoral head and the lag screw as the patient ambulates and arises from or resumes the sitting position.48 One might postulate that, with weakened osteoporotic bone, the lag screw acts like a wedge, slowly working its way upward as the patient ambulates and subjecting their recently fractured hip to rotational forces. These rotational forces are particularly a problem in patients who are noncompliant and slightly demented, but who are ambulatory. Some authors have noted extreme resorption of bone in the femoral head and metaphyseal regions of the proximal femur, and torsional forces have been implicated in implant failure.6,64 Enlarged thread patterns or expansile devices, such as molley–bolt designed hip lag screws, fail to reach to the dense remaining cortical bone that likely holds the greatest promise for maximizing purchase of the lag screw in the femoral head. Furthermore, using a screw driver, the talons can be variably and reversibly deployed at the surgeon’s discretion up to a maximum of 1.2 inches. Many standard lag screws have an external thread diameter of approximately 0.5 inches. Therefore, the column of bone that a lag screw must erode through to penetrate through the superior cortex of the femoral head is more than doubled by using the hip pin with talons deployed.

The radiographic and clinical results of a new compression hip screw with retractable talons provided purchase in difficult hip fractures in elderly patients with osteoporosis without lag screw cut-out or change in angle of fracture reduction (average, 2°). Compression obtained at the time of fracture fixation resulted in minimal subsequent lag screw slide (average, 5.8 mm). Results from the current study showed substantially less slide than in other series36,52 reflecting the enhanced compression obtained at the time of fracture fixation. All talons deployed satisfactorily, and the clinical and radiographic results were gratifying. Mortality rates were not improved by this technique compared with other series of hip fractures,4 reflecting the geriatric nature of the patient population.

Results of the current study and of a previous study8 support the conclusion of Wu et al71 that the optimal location of any lag screw is with an axis inferior to the center of the femoral head. This placement leads to greater purchase of the lag screw in the femoral head in an area that presumably has more dense bone, and theoretically should resist cut-out. Deployment of the talons into or through the cortical endosteal surface increases the purchase strength of the lag screw in this inferior position.

There are several limitations to this retrospective study. Precise determinations of time to radiographic union were not possible because of the limited number of radiographs that were available. Radiographic measurements and classifications were made by one observer, and tests of intraobserver reliability were not done. However, for the Singh index, intraobserver variation is reported to have substantial strength of agreement.37

The resistance to torque forces is the critical factor leading to the failure of hip pins in osteoporotic bone.48,54,64,72 As the patient ambulates in the early postoperative period, the repetitive torque and loading forces are paramount in leading to a wedge effect of the lag screw in the minimally dense femoral head. Compression at the fracture site is critical to preventing subsequent excessive slide of the lag screw as the patient ambulates in the postoperative period.11 Furthermore, talon deployment seems to be the critical factor in resisting rotational torque forces about the femoral head. Although results from the current study did not address the degree of talon penetration into the dense cortical bone, because of my substantial clinical experience with this device, it seems to me that engagement or penetration into or through the cortical bone at the base of the femoral head–neck junction is the critical technical step to maximizing the talon purchase in the femoral head.

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I want to acknowledge the support of my colleagues at All Florida Orthopaedics, Inc., and the assistance of Jane Carver, PhD, and Connie Stevens, in preparing this manuscript.

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