There are few things more discouraging for an orthopaedic surgeon than a late postoperative complication after what was an otherwise successful surgery. One such scenario occurs when patients who have undergone open reduction/internal fixation (ORIF) for a distal radial fracture subsequently experience a flexor pollicis longus (FPL) tendon rupture. While previous literature has suggested that plate positioning plays a role in that complication, no studies have evaluated whether newer plate designs decrease contact with the FPL tendon and therefore reduce the risk of rupture.
With that question in mind, Stepan et al. evaluated two cohorts of patients who had undergone ORIF for a distal radial fracture. In the September 4, 2019 issue of JBJS, they report on findings from 40 patients, 20 of whom received a standard distal radial volar locking plate, and 20 of whom received a plate designed with a distal cutout to afford the FPL more room to traverse.
Ultrasound analysis revealed that similar percentages of patients in each group had FPL–plate contact (65% in the FPL-plate group and 79% in the standard-plate group), and there were no differences between groups in terms of FPL tendon degeneration as seen on ultrasound. However, patients who received the FPL plate had significantly less of the tendon come in contact with the plate at 0° and 45° of wrist extension. The authors noted, however, that this difference may have been influenced by the fact that patients with the FPL-specific plate also had significantly lower volar tilt than patients with the standard locking plate. It is therefore not possible to determine whether it was the plate design or the bone position (or both) that led to these results.
It is also noteworthy that the two senior authors of this study work as consultants for the company that manufactures the plates that were evaluated. It is also important to note that because all the patients in this study were asymptomatic, further research is needed to determine the clinical importance of reduced tendon–plate contact area. We should temper our excitement about specially designed volar plates until we have more clinical data supporting their success in avoiding the problem for which they were designed.
Chad A. Krueger, MD
JBJS Deputy Editor for Social Media