Tag Archives: fracture

EAST 2017 #3: My Neck Is Broken And It Doesn’t Hurt?

Clinical clearance of the cervical spine is a standard of care. It is usually the first method to determine if there might be an injury in patients who are awake, cooperative, and don’t have other painful distracting injuries. But appreciation of pain may be different in elderly patients, and they will frequently not notice pain from some injuries. Could this possibly impact clearance of the cervical spine?

A group at Iowa Methodist performed a retrospective review of patients > 55 with diagnosed cervical spine fractures over a four year period. They were considered to have an asymptomatic injury if they did not complain of pain, or of tenderness to palpation.

Here are the factoids:

  • A total of 173 elderly patients presented with a cervical spine injury during the study period
  • 38 of them (22%) were asymptomatic
  • The asymptomatic patients tended to have higher injury severity (ISS 15 vs 10), have a significant injury in another body region (71% vs 47%), and stayed in the hospital longer (7 days vs 5)
  • A third of patients had multiple cervical fractures (symptomatic or asymptomatic?)
  • C2 was the most common fracture level

Bottom line: I have witnessed this phenomenon myself. Not all of our elders perceive pain the same way younger patients do. This study shows that it is a very significant problem. Most of the previous papers and the only review I could find do not separate out the elderly when making cervical clearance recommendations. We will probably have to develop some specific criteria to determine when a CT scan is necessary in the asymptomatic elderly patient. In the algorithm used at my hospital, age > 65 is already used to bypass clinical clearance. Looks like I’ll have to drop that to 55!

Questions and comments for the authors/presenters:

  • Since they were asymptomatic, how do you know that you didn’t miss any patients?
  • Do you have a practice guideline for cervical spine evaluation? Has it changed based on your study?
  • Be sure to break your data down by mechanism of injury for the presentation. Were there more asymptomatic patients from falls rather than car crashes? Associated fracture patterns for each mechanism?
  • What do you now recommend for clearance?
  • Suggestion: change your title to “cervical spine fractures”, not “neck fracture”.

Click here to go the the EAST 2017 page to see comments on other abstracts.

Related posts:

Reference:   Asymptomatic neck fractures: current guidelines can fail older patients. Paper #8, EAST 2017.

Why Do They Call It: The Surgical Neck of the Humerus?

Anatomy is complex and confusing at times. Pretty much everything you can find in the human body has a name. Sometimes it makes sense. Sometimes it’s named after someone famous. And sometimes, it’s just a head-scratcher.

Let’s take the surgical neck of the humerus. Here’s an image of the proximal humerus:


Notice there are two different “necks” of the humerus. You are probably familiar with the anatomic neck from your anatomy classes. But if you are a resident, an orthopedic surgeon, or someone who deals with fractures regularly, you are more familiar with the surgical neck.

The surgical neck of the humerus is the most common fracture site on the proximal humerus.  But here’s the kicker. It’s a misnomer!

Just because you see a fracture of the surgical neck of the humerus doesn’t meed it needs surgery! Indeed, many of these fractures are now successfully treated with immobilization in a sling. Your friendly neighborhood orthopedic surgeons will assess fracture stability by looking at the mechanism, exact location, involvement of the tubercles, and motion. Then they will decide on their treatment plan.

Bottom line: Don’t get suckered when someone asks you what operation is usually needed for a fracture of the surgical neck of the humerus!

Related posts: 

What You Need To Know About Frontal Sinus Fractures

Fracture of the frontal sinus is less common than other facial injuries, but can be more complex to deal with, both in the shorter and longer terms. These are generally high energy injuries, and facial impact in car crashes is the most common mechanism. Fists generally can’t cause the injury, but blunt objects like baseball bats can.

Here’s the normal anatomy:



Source: www.facialtraumamd.com

There are two “tables”, the anterior and the posterior. The anterior is covered with skin and a small amount of subcutaneous tissue. The posterior table is separated from the brain by the meninges.

Here’s an image of an open fracture involving both tables. Note the underlying pneumocephalus.


A third of injuries violate the anterior table, and two thirds violate both. Posterior table fractures are very rare. A third of all patients will develop a CSF leak, typically from their nose.

These fractures may be (rarely) identified on physical exam if deformity and flattening is noted over the forehead. Most of the time, these patients undergo imaging for brain injury and the fracture is found incidentally. Once identified, go back and specifically look for a CSF leak. Clear fluid in the nose is, by definition, CSF. Don’t waste time on a beta-2 transferring (see below).

If a laceration is clearly visible over the fracture, or if a CSF leak was identified, notify your maxillofacial specialist immediately. If more than a little pneumocephalus is present, let your neurosurgeon know. Otherwise, your consults can wait until the next morning.

In general, these patients frequently require surgery for the fracture, either to restore cosmetic contours or to avoid mucocele formation. However, these are seldom needed urgently unless the fracture is an open fracture with contamination or there is a significant CSF leak. If in doubt, though, consult your specialist.

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Pelvic Binder Orthosis vs Pelvic External Fixation

Yesterday, I wrote about the open book, A-P compression mechanism, pelvic fracture. In the “old” days, the recommended management for an unstable pelvis like these 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, which will be described tomorrow with other binders.

Tomorrow: what’s the “best” pelvic binder?

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

Trauma Mythbusters: NSAIDs And Fracture Healing

Trauma hurts like hell. Over the years, we’ve developed quite a few ways of combating this pain. A number of drug classes have been developed to reduce it. One of the more common non-narcotic drug classes are the NSAIDs. As I’ve mentioned before, every drug has dozens of effects. Drug companies market a particular medication based on one of the predominant effects. All the others are considered side effects.

NSAIDs are not unique; they have lots of side effects as well. In 2003, several papers brought to light possible interactions between these drugs and fracture healing. Specifically, there were questions about these drugs interfering with the healing process and of increasing the number of delayed unions or nonunions. But once again, how convincing were these papers, really?

It would seem to make sense that NSAIDs could interfere with bone healing. This  process relies heavily on the regulation of osteoblast and osteoclast function, which itself is regulated by prostaglandins. Since prostaglandins are synthesized by the COX enzymes, COX inhibitors like the NSAIDs should have the potential to impair this process. Indeed, animal studies in rats and rabbits seem to bear this out.

But as we have seen before, good animal studies don’t always translate well to human experience. Although a study from 2005 suggested that NSAID administration in older patients within 90 days of injury had a higher incidence of fracture nonunion, the study design was not a very good one. It is equally likely that patients who required these drugs in this age group may have been at higher risk for nonunion in the first place.

In fact, there are no large, prospective randomized studies that have explored the effect of short-term or long-term NSAID administration on fracture repair. But there have been several smaller studies that showed absolutely no effect on nonunion with short-term administration of this drug class. Yet the dogma that leads us to avoid giving these drugs persists.

Bottom line: Once again, the animal data is clear but the human data is not. Although there are theoretical concerns about their use, there is not enough solid risk:benefit information to abandon short-term NSAID use in patients who really need them. NSAIDs can and should be prescribed in patients with short-term needs and simple fractures.


  1. Effects of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs on bone formation and soft-tissue healing. J AM Acad Orthop Surg 12:139-43, 2004.
  2. Effect of COX-2 on fracture-healing in the rat femur. J Bone Joint Surg Am 86:116-123, 2004.
  3. Effects of perioperative anti-inflammatory and immunomodulating therapy on surgical wound healing. Pharmacotherapy 25:1566-1591, 2005.
  4. Pharmacological agents and impairment of fracture healing: what is the evidence? Injury 39:384-394, 2008.
  5. High dose nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs compromise spinal fusion. Can J Anaesth 52:506-512, 2005.