Nondisplaced Femoral Neck Fractures in the Elderly: Minimizing Complications

Trying to educate elderly patients and their family members about how to best treat a femoral neck fracture can be difficult. These patients typically have multiple—and often severe—medical comorbidities that can make even the most “simple” surgery complex and life-threatening. Making such discussions even harder is the lack of Level-I evidence related to treating these common injuries. For severely displaced fractures, the evidence supports performing either a hemi- or total hip arthroplasty on most patients. But the data is much less clear for minimally or nondisplaced fractures.

For these reasons, I was excited to read the study by Dolatowski et al. in the January 16, 2019 issue of JBJS. The authors performed a prospective, randomized controlled trial comparing internal screw fixation to hemiarthroplasty for valgus impacted or nondisplaced femoral neck fractures in >200 patients with a mean age of 83 years. They found that patients who underwent hemiarthroplasty had a significantly faster “up-and-go” test and were significantly less likely to undergo a major reoperation than those who underwent internal fixation. However, patients in the internal-fixation group were less likely to develop pulmonary complications. There were no between-group differences in overall hip function (as evaluated with the Harris hip score) or in the 24-month mortality rate.

This study lends support to what many surgeons tell elderly patients with a nondisplaced femoral neck fracture: a hemi- (or total) arthroplasty will probably provide the lowest risk of needing a repeat operation for the injury, while placing percutaneous screws may decrease the risk of cardiopulmonary complications related to the operation. While these findings may not be surprising, this study provides important Level I data that can help us educate patients and their families so that the best treatment for each individual patient can be determined.

Chad A. Krueger, MD
JBJS Deputy Editor for Social Media

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