In the February 15, 2017 issue of The Journal, Aneja et al. utilize a large administrative database to examine the critical question of venous thromboembolism (VTE) risk as it relates to managing patients with metastatic femoral lesions. The authors found that prophylactic intramedullary (IM) nailing clearly resulted in a higher risk of both pulmonary embolism and deep-vein thrombosis, relative to IM nailing after a pathologic fracture. Conversely, the study found that patients managed with fixation after a pathological fracture had greater need for blood transfusions, higher rates of postoperative urinary tract infections, and a decreased likelihood of being discharged to home.
The VTE findings make complete clinical sense, because when we ream an intact bone, the highly pressurized medullary canal forces coagulation factors into the peripheral circulation. When we ream after a fracture, the pressures are much lower, and neither the coagulation factors nor components of the metastatic lesion are forced into the peripheral circulation as efficiently, although some may partially escape through the fracture site.
One might conclude that we should never consider prophylactic fixation in the case of metastatic disease in long bones, but that would not be a patient-centric position to hold. In my opinion, the decision about whether to prophylactically internally fix an impending pathologic fracture should be based on patient symptoms and consultations with the patient’s oncologist and radiation therapist.
If all of the findings from Aneja et al. are considered, and if the patient’s symptoms are functionally limiting after initiation of appropriate radiation and chemotherapy, prophylactic fixation should be performed, along with vigilantly managed VTE-prevention measures. This study is ideally suited to inform these discussions for optimum patient care.
Marc Swiontkowski, MD
OrthoBuzz regularly brings you a current commentary on a “classic” article from The Journal of Bone & Joint Surgery. These articles have been selected by the Editor-in-Chief and Deputy Editors of The Journal because of their long-standing significance to the orthopaedic community and the many citations they receive in the literature. Our OrthoBuzz commentators highlight the impact that these JBJS articles have had on the practice of orthopaedics. Please feel free to join the conversation about these classics by clicking on the “Leave a Comment” button in the box to the left.
In 1957 Gerhard Küntscher presented his work on intramedullary (IM) nailing to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. His classic JBJS paper on the subject, published in January 1958, summarized his views on this comparatively new technique and encouraged other surgeons to use it for the treatment of long bone fractures and nonunions.
Küntscher pointed out that callus was very sensitive to mechanical stresses, and therefore any treatment method should aim at complete immobilization of the fracture fragments throughout the healing process. External splints, such as plaster casts, did not achieve that, and “inner splints” fixed to the outside of the bone damaged the periosteum.
In advocating for intramedullary fixation, Küntscher was careful to distinguish nails from pins. He was very complimentary about J. and L. Rush, who developed intramedullary pinning, but he pointed out that, unlike pins, nails allowed both longitudinal elasticity and cross-sectional compressibility if they were designed with a V-profile or clover-leaf cross section. This cross-sectional elasticity allowed the nail to fit the canal and expand during bone resorption.
Not only did Küntscher appreciate the biomechanics of the intramedullary nail, but he also pointed out the physical and psychological advantages of early mobilization, particularly in the elderly. He also emphasized that massage was unnecessary—and potentially harmful—during the recovery phase, claiming that any measures that make patients more conscious of their injuries are psychologically disadvantageous.
Küntscher used intramedullary nailing to treat fractures, nonunions, and osteotomies of the femur, tibia, humerus, and forearm. He accepted that it was “a most daring” approach that would destroy the nutrient artery, but he pointed out that proper nailing almost always prevented pseudarthoses and that antibiotics had checked the threat of infection. He said further that perioperative x-rays entailed short exposures and that the “electronic fluoroscope” had, even back then, practically eliminated the risk of x-ray injury to assistants.
The paper clearly illustrates Küntscher’s widespread knowledge and innovative skills. However, it was the subsequent development of locked nails that resulted in intramedullary nailing becoming the treatment of choice for femoral and tibial fractures. Time will tell if modern orthopaedic surgeons will catch up with Küntscher and use nailing for humeral and forearm diaphyseal fractures.
Charles M Court-Brown, MD, FRCSCEd
JBJS Deputy Editor
The study by Ramo et al. in the February 17, 2016 JBJS examines the evolution toward more aggressive operative treatment of children with isolated femoral fractures. This movement started 30 years ago, initially with the notion that adolescents should be treated as adults, with preferential intramedullary (IM) nail fixation. Concerns regarding damage to the femoral-head arterial supply led to the development of nails that could be started at the trochanteric region.
In the five- to twelve-year-old group, the options that have been documented as safe and effective include flexible nailing, plating, and external fixation, each with its own set of advantages and downsides. Fractures in kids ages four and five have generally been treated by spica cast management. However, parental concerns over cast care, more frequent radiographs, and the negative impact on family life have influenced many centers to move toward IM fixation even in this “preschool” age group.
The Ramo et al. study has all the limitations of a retrospective study, but it strongly suggests that in four- and five-year-olds, the radiographic outcomes of nailing and casting are equivalent after a mean follow-up of 32 weeks. These findings will provide some information for a shared decision-making discussion with parents, but as with many topics in pediatric fracture management, the clinical questions raised by this study beg for a prospective, controlled, multicenter trial. I agree with commentator Merv Letts, who points out that the Ramo et al. study raises important and complex clinical and family-environment issues that we need to grapple with as an orthopaedic community, but that more definitive answers will come only with prospective research and longer follow-up periods.
Marc Swiontkowski, MD
Technological advances in orthopaedic surgery occur steadily and incrementally. However, every so often, something comes along that really changes orthopaedic practice. Such is the case with the introduction of reverse shoulder arthroplasty, which is a unique, novel procedure that can be used to treat a variety of conditions affecting the shoulder. In this month’s issue of JBJS Reviews, George et al. review the use of reverse shoulder arthroplasty for the treatment of proximal humeral fractures.
Proximal humeral fractures, particularly those that occur in osteoporotic bone, can be complex and difficult to manage. While the majority of these fractures can be successfully treated with initial mobilization in a sling followed by return to activities, three and four-part fractures often are associated with poor functional outcomes, including nonunion, malunion, posttraumatic glenohumeral arthritis, and stiffness. Thus, operative interventions such as closed reduction and percutaneous pinning, open reduction and internal fixation with locked or unlocked plates, and locked intramedullary nailing are available options. However, because of the difficulty associated with reduction of three and four-part fractures, open reduction and internal fixation is associated with a high rate of complications.
Nearly sixty years ago, Neer described the use of hemiarthroplasty for the treatment of three and four-part fractures of the proximal part of the humerus. Implants and techniques steadily improved over the ensuing six decades, but the introduction of reverse shoulder arthroplasty may represent a major step forward. In the article by George et al., the use of reverse shoulder arthroplasty for the treatment of complex fractures of the proximal part of the humerus appears to have led to good results after short and intermediate-term follow up. Malunion or nonunion of the tuberosities did not affect the functional result after reverse total shoulder arthroplasty as much as it did after hemi-arthroplasty, but it did lead to decreased postoperative external rotation.
The long-term outcomes of reverse shoulder arthroplasty for the treatment of these fractures still have not been well established, so we probably should not rush to change our practice on the basis of this article alone. Indeed, since the results have been shown to deteriorate as early as six years postoperatively, reverse shoulder arthroplasty should be reserved for older patients and should be avoided in younger patients. Reverse shoulder arthroplasty can be used for the treatment of rotator cuff arthroplasty and recently has gained popularity for the treatment of severe proximal humeral fractures. This article provides a thorough yet concise overview of the application of this novel technique and implant to the treatment of these difficult and complex injuries.
Thomas A. Einhorn, MD, Editor