To evaluate healing rates and complications in patients treated with temporary external fixation
(EF) and subsequent open reduction and internal fixation
(ORIF) for high-energy distal femur or proximal tibia fractures.
Retrospective analysis of prospectively collected data 1999 to 2005. Demographic data and injury severity score were obtained from medical records. Factors reviewed included perioperative complications (nonunion, postoperative infection, loss of fixation
) and time to radiographic and clinical union.
Forty-seven patients with 16 distal femur and 36 proximal tibia fractures were treated using temporary
EF. Patients subsequently underwent ORIF (mean time from EF to ORIF = 5 days, range 1–23 days). Thirty-five fractures were open (Gustilo I = 8, II = 6, IIIA = 3, IIIB = 13, IIIC = 5) and 17 closed. Forty patients with 44 fractures reached 1-year follow-up. Of these, 36 patients with 40 (91%) fractures had healed both radiographically and clinically. The mean postoperative follow-up time was 14 months (range 3–68). Eight (16%) deep infections occurred, all in open fractures (Gustilo I = 2, IIIB = 3, IIIC = 3), with one patient requiring above knee
amputation. Other complications included one hematoma, two malunions, one fixation
failure, and one pin site infection. One patient died as a result of a stroke.
Conclusions and Significance: Temporary
bridging EF offers the advantage of early soft tissue and bone stabilization without the potential local risks of immediate ORIF in severely injured soft tissues, or the potential systemic risks in a severely traumatized patient. The 16% infection rate in this study, all occurring in open fractures, falls within the reported range for grade III open fractures (15%–20%). We conclude that the initial treatment of high-energy periarticular knee
fractures with bridging EF, followed by planned conversion
to internal fixation
is a safe option in patients who are unsuitable for initial definitive surgery.