Category Archives: Pelvis

Early Operative Fixation of Pelvic Fractures And Functional Outcome

Disruption of the pelvic bones takes a huge amount of energy, and results in significant bleeding and morbidity from other causes. Repair typically consists of surgical fixation, frequently with temporary external fixation in the interim. These patients require intensive therapy postoperatively, with inpatient rehab prior to discharge home.

How well do patients with severe pelvic fractures do in the longer term? The group at the University of Tennessee in Memphis did a lengthy followup study spanning 18 years of severe pelvic fractures treated at their hospital. These patients had sustained fractures with significant bleeding, an open book component, or SI joint disruption with vertical shear.

open book pelvis pre

The authors used phone interviews and a standardized measurement instrument (Activity Measure for Post-Acute Care, AM-PAC) to gauge daily activity of affected patients. They then looked for factors predictive of functional outcome.

Here are the factoids:

  • 401 patients were identified over the 18 year study period
  • Of these only 71% survived (285), and the study documented followup in 145 (51%)
  • Average ISS was 27 (fairly high) and patients tended to be older (mean 53 years)
  • Even after 8 to 20 years, mobility and activity were significantly impaired as measured by AM-PAC
  • Time to fixation was the only identifiable factor that had an impact on decreased mobility or activity

Bottom line: Early definitive fixation of the pelvis was the only variable found that had an impact on future mobility and activity. Frequently, external fixation is applied soon after admission. But remember, your trauma patient is at their healthiest as they roll through the doors of your ED. The sooner they get all of their problems fixed, the better (and safer).

Impact of early operative pelvic fixation on long-term functional outcome following sever pelvic fracture. AAST 2016, Paper 60.

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Pelvic Binder Orthosis vs Pelvic External Fixation

In the “old” days, the recommended management for an unstable pelvis was application of an external fixator. In some textbooks, it was even suggested that this should be done (by orthopedics) in the resuscitation room. High volume trauma centers with ortho residents could actually pull this off, but not many others.

As the idea of pelvic orthotic binders caught on (T-POD, sheeting, etc) and was adopted by prehospital providers, and then trauma teams, the use of initial external fixation dropped off. But the idea that external fixation was the most desirable or most effective lingered on. A study from Memphis finally sheds some light on the answer to this question.

A 10 year retrospective review was carried out on patients presenting with multiple or severe pelvic ring fractures who had early stabilization of the pelvis. Stabilization consisted of external fixation early on, and gradually shifted to pelvic orthotic devices over the study period. They ultimately analyzed outcomes for 93 patients in each treatment group.

The authors found that transfusion needs were dramatically reduced with the orthotic devices (5 units vs 17 units at 24 hours) compared to the orthotics. About a quarter of patients in each group went to angiography, and even in those patients the transfusion need remained lower in the orthotic device group. Hospital length of stay was also significantly shorter in this group (17 vs 24 days). There was no difference in mortality.

Bottom line: Although this is a small, retrospective study it easily showed significant results and will probably never be repeated. Use of a pelvic orthotic device (POD) resulted in less blood replacement and shorter stays in hospital. This technique is simple, cheap and quick, an ideal combination. But does a sheet count as an orthotic device? We don’t know. It’s really cheap, but probably a bit less controlled than a POD. If you have a real POD in your ED or your ambulance, use it. If not, apply the sheet as described below.

Reference: Emergent pelvic fixation in patients with exsanguinating pelvic fractures. JACS 204:935-942, 2007.

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