Take aways from the case discussion in the 41th trauma course in Halle

Primary vs. secondary healing
Femur shaft fracture - influence of nail thickness
Distal femur shaft fracture
Differences in shaft fractures - influence of fracture gap size

Primary vs. secondary healing

Direct bone formation
  • Requires direct bone contact or small gaps and does only tolerate small interfragmentary movement → absolute stability

  • This can be achieved surgically only by open anatomical reduction and absolutely stable internal fixation with interfragmentary compression or a small stable gap.

  • Strain theory of Perren and Cordey: direct bone formation can only occur if the interfragmentary strain is smaller than the failure strain of the newly formed bone tissue [1]. Accordingly, only strains less than 2% can allow direct fracture healing [2].

Indirect bone formation
  • A majority of fractures heal via the indirect or secondary route.

  • Secondary fracture healing occurs with relative stability in the fracture area.

  • Relative stability is achieved surgically by indirect reduction and bridging internal (angular stable plate osteosynthesis, intramedullary nailing) or external fixation (external fixator) [3, 4].

  • Even with relative stability, the right amount of interfragmentary strain must be present to achieve successful fracture healing. If the fixation is too rigid or too flexible, delayed healing or non-union will result [5].

  1. Perren and Cordey. Tissue differences in fracture healing. Unfallheilkunde 80, 161-164 (1977).

  2. Perren. Fracture healing: fracture healing understood as the result of a fascinating cascade of physical and biological interactions. Part II. Acta Chir Orthop Traumatol Cech 82, 13-21 (2015).

  3. Augat and von Rüden. Evolution of fracture treatment with bone plates. Injury 49, S2-S7 (2018).

  4. Hierholzer et al. Entwicklung und Prinzipien der Verriegelungsmarknagelung. Unfallchirurg 121, 239-255 (2018).

  5. Lutz Claes. Mechanobiology of fracture healing: From basic science to clinical application. Springer Cham (2022). ISBN: 978-3-030-94081-2

Femur shaft fracture - influence of nail thickness

  • Minimizing shear and torsional movements at the gap promotes fracture healing.

  • Even a slightly bigger nail diameter results in disproportionately increased stiffness.

  • Greater system stiffness, in turn, results in less movement at the fracture gap.

  • The play of the nail inside the medullary cavity should be kept as small as possible.

  • Thus, choosing the largest possible nail diameter makes biomechanical sense, due to its superior stiffness.

  1. Penzkofer et al. Influence of intramedullary nail diameter and locking mode on the stability of tibial shaft fracture fixation. Arch Orthop Trauma Surg 129, 525-531 (2009).

Distal femur shaft fracture

  • Both nail and and plating systems have become reliable treatment modalities for distal femur fractures. [1]

  • While proponents of each treatment modality will debate on pros and cons of both IMN and LP, there is still no clear consensus on a gold standard.

  • Stabilization of distal femur fractures with locking plates can cause inconsistent and asymmetric formation of periosteal callus, which may be attributed to the high stiffness of the fixation construct. [2]

  • Fractures treated with intramedullary nailing were found to have a 93.9% union rate, an average time to union of 19.2 weeks, an average arc of motion of 105.1 degrees, with an average of 14.4 degrees of malalignment. [1]

  • Fractures treated with locking plates were found to have a 90.2% union rate, an average time to union of 20.5 weeks, an average arc of motion of 104 degrees, with an average of 12.6 degrees of malalignment. [1]

  1. Jankowski et al. Comparing Intramedullary Nailing Versus Locked Plating in the Treatment of Native Distal Femur Fractures: Is One Superior to the Other?. JOIO 55, 646-654 (2021).

  2. Lujan et al. >Locked plating of distal femur fractures leads to inconsistent and asymmetric callus formation. J Orthop Trauma 24, 156-162 (2010).

Differences in shaft fractures - influence of fracture gap size

  • The quality of the fracture healing outcome and the rate of healing decreases with increasing fracture gap size.

  • Large fracture gaps can create critical size defects that supress healing and lead to non-unons.

  • A critical size defect might be defined as exceeding 1.5-3 times the diameter of the bone [2].

  • Larger osteotomy gaps lead to significantly more fibrocartilage and a lower amount of newly formed blood vessels in the gap healing area compared to osteotomy gaps of medium size.

  • From a clinical point of view, the use of operating techniques that avoid damage to the vascular system and allow reduction of the bone fragments, to achieve small fracture gaps, are important if we are to ensure proper fracture healing.

  1. Claes et al. Influence of size and stability of the osteotomy gap on the success of fracture healing. J Orthop Res 15, 577-584 (1997).

  2. Garcia et al. Rodent animal models of delayed bone healing and non-union formation: a comprehensive review. Eur Cell Matter 26, 1-12 (2013).