The incidence of patients presenting with proximal thigh and groin pain is increasing along with increased interest in recreational athletic activity. When it is associated with a history of increased physical activity, this pain profile often prompts the ordering of a hip MRI if presenting radiographs are unremarkable. However, surgeons often find it difficult to make accurate prognoses and treatment recommendations when the MRI findings suggest a femoral neck stress fracture.
In the September 5, 2018 issue of The Journal, Steele et al. provide us with helpful hints for determining when to proceed with surgical stabilization of the femoral neck in this clinical scenario. Of the femoral neck stress fracture patients in this study who progressed to a surgical procedure, >85% had an effusion on the initial MRI, compared with only 26% of those whose condition resolved with nonoperative treatment. In statistical terms, those who had a hip effusion had an 8-fold increased risk of progression to surgery compared to those without a hip effusion. Meanwhile, the overall fracture-line percentage on the initial MRI turned out to be a poor metric for predicting progression.
Stabilization of a femoral neck stress fracture with percutaneous implants usually improves pain and predictably prevents displacement of the fracture and the attendant risk of nonunion and osteonecrosis of the femoral head. Further clinical research should help validate the seemingly reliable MRI-based predictor identified by these authors.
Marc Swiontkowski, MD