In the December 2, 2015 issue of The Journal, Reindl et al. report on the results of a multicenter randomized trial comparing intramedullary (IM) fixation versus sliding hip screws for stabilization of type A2 unstable intertrochanteric fractures. This trial is yet another product of the Canadian Orthopaedic Trauma Society (COTS), which has collaborated on high-quality clinical trials for more than a decade.
There have been more than 20 RCTs comparing intramedullary fixation with sliding hip screws. Many of these trials exclusively investigated stable fracture patterns or included both stable and unstable fractures. These studies generally concluded that nails provide no clear outcome benefits, except perhaps in unstable fractures. Several meta-analyses have also been published that identified no significant difference in clinical or functional outcomes.
Up until now, there has been little dispute with the recommendation that unstable intertrochanteric fractures be fixed with intramedullary implants. While this current trial confirms radiographic advantages to IM fixation (significantly less femoral-neck shortening) after 12 months, Reindl et al. found but no significant functional advantage (in terms of Lower Extremity Measures, Functional Independence Measures, or timed up-and-go tests) with IM fixation in unstable A2 fractures. These findings add more evidence to the claim that IM implants for both stable and unstable patterns are overused in North America.
The question now becomes how many more trials do we need to further make the point? We know that powerful surgeon-behavior influences exist in academic medical centers that continue to use intramedullary implants routinely for intertrochanteric hip fractures (see the 2010 JBJS prognostic study by Forte et al.). Considering the much higher cost of intramedullary nails relative to hip screws, it is high time that these same centers teach appropriate use of IM implants for these fractures so that trainees become facile with both implant types.
Marc Swiontkowski, MD