Less Pain, More Gain with Just One Screw
OrthoBuzz occasionally receives posts from guest bloggers. This guest post comes from Matthew Herring, MD in response to a recent study in the Journal of Orthopaedic Trauma.
Low-energy sacral fractures in the geriatric population typically heal over time without operative intervention. Nonoperative treatment usually involves analgesics and progressive rehabilitation. Unfortunately, given the frailty and low physiologic reserves of many in this patient population, these fractures can still take a significant toll. Fracture pain may last for weeks to months; deconditioning occurs secondary to poor mobilization; and many patients are discharged to skilled nursing facilities rather than returning directly home.
Given this associated morbidity, Walker et al.1 asked whether percutaneous transiliac-transsacral screw fixation could offer some benefit in the treatment of sacral fragility fractures. The authors present a retrospective review of 41 elderly patients who were admitted with sacral fragility fractures. All patients first received a trial of nonoperative management, which included analgesia and physical therapy-guided mobilization. If patients were unable to appropriately ambulate secondary to pain, they were offered surgery. Sixteen patients elected surgery, which consisted of transiliac-transsacral screw fixation of the posterior pelvic ring.
After surgery, the operative group reported greater reductions in pain than the nonoperative cohort, and they were more likely to be discharged directly home from the hospital (75% versus 20%). Furthermore, at the time of discharge, 100% of the surgical patients were able to ambulate with physical therapy, compared to only 72% of the nonoperative group. No surgical complications occurred, and the average total surgical time was only 34 minutes.
Sacral fragility fractures can result in significant pain and disability in an already frail population. While these fractures are typically managed conservatively, this study suggests that some patients may benefit from surgical intervention. Percutaneous transiliac-transsacral screw fixation is a relatively low-risk procedure (at least in the normomorphic sacrum). And if a single screw can reduce pain, improve function, and more quickly return geriatric patients to their baseline level of independence, then the risk-benefit calculus would favor surgery, unless specific contraindications are present.
While this study is not powerful enough to rewrite treatment protocols, it does give credence to considering surgical fixation for sacral fragility fractures in those who still struggle after a trial of conservative management, and it makes a strong argument for further investigation.
Matthew Herring, MD is a fellow in orthopaedic trauma at the University of California, San Francisco and a member of the JBJS Social Media Advisory Board.
- Walker, J. Brock, et al. “Percutaneous Transiliac–Transsacral Screw Fixation of Sacral Fragility Fractures Improves Pain, Ambulation, and Rate of Disposition to Home.” Journal of orthopaedic trauma 32.9 (2018): 452-456.