Tag Archives: pelvis

Don’t Repeat Trauma Activation X-rays!!

You are in the middle of a fast-paced trauma activation. The patient is awake, and mostly cooperative. The x-ray plate is under the patient and everyone stands back as the tech gets ready to fire the x-ray machine. At that very moment, your patient reaches up and places his hand on his chest. Or one of the nurses reaches over to check an IV site.

The x-ray tech swears, and offers to re-shoot the image. What do you do? Is it really ruined? They have an extra plate in hand and are ready to slide it under the patient bed.

The decision tree on this one is very simple. There are two factors in play: what do you need to see, and how hard is it to see? The natural reaction is to discard the original image and immediately get a new one. It’s so easy! Plus, the techs will take heat from the radiologist because of the suboptimal image. But take a look at this example of a “ruined” chest xray.

It’s just the patient’s hand! You can still see everything that you really need to.

Bottom line: You are looking for 2 main things on the chest x-ray: big air and big blood. Only those will change your management in the trauma bay. And they are very easy to see. Couple that with the fact that an arm overlying the image does not add a lot of “noise” to the image. So look at the processed image first. 99% of the time, you can see what you need, and will almost never have to repeat. [Hint: the same holds true for the pelvic x-ray, too. You are mainly looking for significant bony displacements, which are also easy to see.]

Related posts:

Efficacy Of Preperitoneal Packing For Pelvic Fractures

A multi-center trial published in 2015 showed an astounding 32% mortality rate for patients with shock from pelvic fracture. And as I continue to preach, going any place but the OR is dangerous for the patient. Unfortunately, it’s generally not feasible to operatively fix the pelvis acutely, and external fixation has limited impact on ongoing hemorrhage.

If the patient can be stabilized to some degree, interventional radiology can be very helpful. Unfortunately, access after hours involves some degree of time delay. Ideally, the team arrives in 30 minutes or less. But the patient may not be ready, so time to procedure may increase significantly.

So preperitoneal packing of the pelvis (PPP) has now become popular. Years ago, we tried to pack the pelvis from the inside (peritoneal cavity), but it never worked very well. You can push sponges deep into the pelvis as firmly as you want, but the intestines will not keep them from expanding back out of the pelvis.

PPP entails making a lower midline incision, but not entering the peritoneal cavity. A hand is then slid along the anterior surface of the peritoneum around the inside of the iliac wing. Sponges can then be pushed around toward the sacrum, applying direct pressure over bleeding fracture sites and the overlying tissues.


Image courtesy of ACSSurgery.com

But does it work? Denver Health performed an 11 year retrospective review of their experience with 2293 patients with pelvic fractures. They looked at time to intervention, blood product usage, and mortality.

Here are the factoids:

  • A total of 128 patients underwent PPP
  • Most were younger (mean age 43) and badly injured (mean ISS 48)
  • Median time from door to OR was 44 minutes
  • Patients received an average of 8 units of RBCs intraop, and an additional 3 units in the ensuing 24 hours
  • Overall mortality was 21% (27 of 128), but 9 (7%) were due to severe head injury

Bottom line: Compared to other published studies, time to “definitive management” with PPP was very short. Blood usage also dropped quickly after the procedure. Mortality seems to be much better than expected at about 13%. These results suggest that if you have to wait for angio, or your patient is too unstable to go there, run to the OR first to do some PPP.

And don’t forget these other important management tips:

  • If you see any posterior pelvic fracture on the initial pelvic x-ray, call for blood
  • If the blood pressure softens at any point activate your massive transfusion protocol
  • Apply a binder, especially for open book type fractures
  • Always get a CT in stable patients to help your orthopedic surgeons plan, and to identify contrast blushes
  • If the patient has to go to OR first to stabilize them, consider angio afterwards. You’ll probably find something they can fix.
  • Think about using your hybrid OR!

Reference: Preperitoneal pelvic packing reduces mortality in patients with life-threatening hemorrhage due to unstable pelvic fractures. AAST 2016, Paper 32.

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.

Grading A-P Force Pelvic Injury

Pelvic bony injury requires substantial force, and there are several distinct fracture patterns seen. Today, I’ll briefly review the so called A-P force mechanism and its grading.

The anterior-posterior (A-P) mechanism frequently results in what many call an “open book” pelvis on x-ray evaluation. It most commonly occurs when something heavy rolls over or crushes the pelvis. We see this in patients who have a vehicle roll over their torso, or are crushed by heavy machinery. The force is applied to the sacrum posteriorly and the anterior portions of the iliac crests. This fulcrum effect displaces one or both iliac wings posteriorly. The flexion point is typically the sacro-iliac joint or the sacral wings. The pubic symphysis pulls apart as the iliac wings move away from their anatomic position.

The usual grading system assigns a type subclassification based on the amount of disruption:

  • Type I – less than 1 inch (2.5cm) of pubic diastasis, or rami are fractured; no significant posterior injury
  • Type II – more than 1 inch of diastasis; one or both SI joints widened; posterior SI ligament intact; anterior SI, sacrospinous and sacrotuberous ligaments torn
  • Type III – all anterior and posterior ligaments disrupted

How is this grading system useful? It is generally predictive of hemodynamic instability, resuscitation requirements, and the possibility of concomitant vascular and/or neurologic compromise. However, you can also get a pretty good idea of all of that just looking at the x-ray. But it is helpful in describing the injury to your orthopedic colleagues.

Tomorrow: What to do about it in your trauma bay.

Unstable Patient & Pelvic Fracture + Hemoperitoneum

The usual thinking is that most unstable trauma patients need a quick trip to the OR to stop the bleeding from something. In the US and Europe, patients with nasty pelvic fractures are no exception, especially those with hemoperitoneum. But many of these patients are bleeding from vessels associated with the pelvic fractures and not so much from associated intra-abdominal injuries. And operative management of pelvic fracture bleeding is far from satisfying, even when using preperitoneal packing.

Well, things are a little different in Japan. In many cases, unstable patients are taken to interventional radiology for angio and possible embolization. Is this prudent, or is it dangerous? A Japanese group decided to critically look at this practice by examining the Japan Trauma Data Bank for answers.

Here are the factoids:

  • Patients with pelvic fracture and positive FAST were included, who underwent either laparotomy or angioembolization as their first intervention (n=1153). Those with non-salvageable head injury were excluded, as well as patients who underwent another major procedure first (craniotomy, thoracotomy, ortho procedures, etc.). Only 317 patients remained.
  • In-hospital mortality was the primary outcome of interest
  • A total of 123 underwent laparotomy first, and 194 went to angio first
  • A very small number of patients were hypotensive on arrival (81 laparotomy first, 82 angio first)
  • Half of the patients who were hypotensive on arrival went to angio first (!)
  • Laparotomy-first patients had a higher crude mortality, but this disappeared when confounders were controlled. This was true in patients who were either normotensive or hypotensive on arrival.
  • The authors concluded that the initial intervention should be determined by severity of injury, since in-hospital mortality was no different

Bottom line: Whoa! This is a sweeping statement for a study with so few subjects. Yes, it can be very difficult to determine whether initial bleeding is from the pelvis vs a solid organ or mesenteric injury while in the ED. But it is all too easy to fritter away time (and the patient’s blood/life) in the angiography suite. I recommend trying to stabilize your patient as best you can with fluid and/or blood. If you can maintain a “reasonable” blood pressure, proceed to CT for a quick look at the torso. Then go to the most appropriate location to take care of the problem. And if your patient decompensates in CT or angio, immediately proceed to the operating room!

Related posts:


  • Comparison between laparotomy first versus angiographic embolization first in patients with pelvic fracture and hemoperitoneum: a nationwide observational study from the Japan Trauma Data Bank. Scand J Trauma 21:82, 2013.
  • Eastern Association for the Surgery of Trauma Practice Management Guidelines for Hemorrhage in Pelvic Fracture-Update and Systematic Review. J Trauma 71:1850-1868, 2011.