Torso Trauma CT (Nearly) ALWAYS Requires Contrast

Most stable patients with blunt trauma undergo CT scanning these days. Hopefully, it’s done thoughtfully to optimize the risk/benefit ratio using a well-designed imaging protocol. The majority of these torso imaging protocols call for the use of IV contrast. But as I’ve written before, this can pose risks, especially to the elderly and others who have some degree of renal impairment.

Unfortunately, I occasionally encounter scans done at other hospitals that omit the use of contrast. This usually hinders diagnosis significantly. And it’s usually not clear why this happened, so let’s think about it a bit.

The use of contrast in CT is designed to show blood, or things that are filled with lots of blood. Specifically, a great deal of detail about the blood vessels and solid organs is displayed.

Let’s break it down by type of scan:

  • Chest – we are really only interested in the aorta. The only way to reliably demonstrate an aortic injury is by using contrast. And this is one of those injuries that, if you miss it, the patient is very likely to die from it. Therefore, if you are ordering a chest CT properly, you must add contrast.
  • Abdomen/pelvis – generally, we are looking for solid organ injury, potential mesenteric injuries, and extravasation of blood from organs or soft tissue. Once again, the only way to really see any of these is with contrast enhancement.
  • Vascular – CT is replacing conventional angiography for the investigation of vascular injury in many cases. Obviously, this study is worthless without the contrast.

Bottom line: Pretty much any CT of the chest, blood vessels, or abdomen/pelvis must have IV contrast injected for accurate diagnosis. But what if your patient is old, or is known to have some degree of renal impairment? First, decide if you can wait until a point of care or standard creatinine measurement is done. If you can, use the result to do your own risk/benefit calculation. Is the injury you are worried about potentially life-threatening AND reasonably likely? Are there other less harmful ways to detect it? Then use them. And if you really do need the study in a patient with renal dysfunction, give the contrast, monitor the serum creatinine regularly, and do what you can to optimize and protect their renal function over the next several days.

When To Call: Urology

Here’s one in a series of “When To Call” pieces. We sometimes overuse our consultants and call then at inappropriate times. So what if we diagnose an injury in their area of expertise at 2 am? Does it need attention or an operation before morning? If not, why call at that ungodly hour?

Let’s use our consultants wisely! I’ve listed most of the common urologic diagnoses that trauma professionals will encounter. There is also an indication of what you need to do, and exactly when to call your consultant.

Here’s a reference sheet formatted at a 3×5 index card that you can keep in your pocket. I’ve included a printable pdf file, as well as the original Microsoft Publisher file in case you want to make a few modifications to suit your own hospital.


When to call Urology reference card (pdf)

When to call Urology MS Publisher file (pub)

What’s The Best Pelvic Binder? Part 2

Yesterday, I detailed some pelvic binders commonly available in the US. Today, I’ll go through the (little) science there is regarding which are better than others.

There are a number of factors to consider when choosing one of these products. They are:

  • Does it work?
  • Does it hurt or cause skin damage?
  • Is it easy to use?
  • How much does it cost?

It’s difficult to determine how well binders work in the live, clinical setting. But biomechanical studies can serve as a surrogate to try to answer this question. One such cadaver study was carried out in the Netherlands a few years ago. They created one of three different fracture types in pelvis specimens. Special locator wires were placed initially so they could measure bone movement before and after binder placement. All three of the previously discussed commercial binders were used.

Here are the factoids:

  • In fracture patterns that were partially stable or unstable, all binders successfully closed the pelvic ring.
  • None of the binders caused adverse displacements of fracture fragments.
  • Pulling force to achieve complete reduction was lowest with the T-POD (40 Newtons) and highest with the SAM pelvic sling (120 Newtons). The SAM sling limits compression to 150 Newtons, which was more than adequate to close the pelvis.

So what about harm? A healthy volunteer study was used to test each binder for tissue pressure levels. The 80 volunteers were outfitted with a pressure sensing mat around their pelvis, and readings were taken with each binder in place.

Here are the additional factoids:

  • The tissue damage threshold was assumed to be 9.3 kPa sustained for more than 2-3 hours based on the 1994 paper cited below.
  • All binders exceeded the tissue damage threshold at the greater trochanters and sacrum while lying on a backboard. It was highest with the Pelvic Binder and lowest with the SAM sling.
  • Pressures over the trochanters decreased significantly after transfer to a hospital bed, but the Pelvic Binder pressures remained at the tissue damage level.
  • Pressures over the sacrum far exceeded the tissue damage pressure with all binders on a backboard and it remained at or above this level even after transfer to a bed. Once again, the Pelvic Binder pressures were higher. The other splints had similar pressures.

And finally, the price! Although your results may vary due to your buying power, the SAM sling is about $50-$70, the Pelvic Binder $140, and the T-POD $125.

Bottom line: The binder that performed the best (equivalent biomechanical testing, better tissue pressure profile) was the SAM sling. It also happens to be the least expensive, although it takes a little more elbow grease to apply. In my mind, that’s a winning combo. Plus, it’s narrow, which allows easy access to the abdomen and groins for procedures. But remember, whichever one you choose, get them off as soon as possible to avoid skin complications.


  • Comparison of three different pelvic circumferential compression devices: a biomechanical cadaver study. JBJS 93:230-240, 2011.
  • Randomised clinical trial comparing pressure characteristics of pelvic circumferential compression devices in healthy volunteers. Injury 42:1020-1026, 2011.
  • Pressure sores. BMJ 309(6959):853-857, 1994.

What’s The Best Pelvic Binder? Part 1

Several products for compressing the fractured pelvis are available. They range from free and simple (a sheet), to a bit more complicated and expensive. How to decide which product to use? Today, I’ll discuss the four commonly used products. Tomorrow, I’ll look at the science.

First, let’s dispense with the sheet. Yes, it’s very cheap. But it’s not easy to use correctly, and more difficult to secure. Click here to see my post on its use.

There are three commercial products that are commonly used. First is the Pelvic Binder from the company of the same name ( It consists of a relatively wide belt with a tensioning mechanism that attaches to the belt using velcro. One size fits all, so you may have to cut down the belt for smaller patients. Proper tension is gauged by being able to insert two fingers under the binder.

Next is the SAM Pelvic Sling from SAM Medical Products ( This device is a bit fancier, is slimmer, and the inside is more padded. It uses a belt mechanism to tighten and secure the sling. This mechanism automatically limits the amount of force applied to avoid problems with excessive compression. It comes in three sizes, and the standard size fits 98% of the population, they say.

Finally, there is the T-POD from Pyng Medical ( This one looks similar to the Pelvic Binder in terms of width and tensioning. It is also a cut to fit, one size fits all device. It has a pull tab that uses a pulley system to apply tension. Again, two fingers must be inserted to gauge proper tension.

So those are the choices. Tomorrow, I’ll go over some of the data and pricing so you can make intelligent choices about selecting the right device for you.

What Is: The Monteggia Fracture

Yesterday, I wrote about one of the many fractures that occurs during falls onto outstretched hands, the Galeazzi fracture. Today, I’ll describe another one, the Monteggia fracture. Yes, this one is named after another Italian surgeon! And like the other one, the person it was named after was actually the second to describe it.

Think of the Monteggia fracture as the exact opposite of a Galeazzi fracture. The fractured bone is switched, as is the dislocation. Whereas the Galeazzi is a distal radius fracture with a distal ulnar dislocation which pulls the radio-ulnar joint apart, the Monteggia is a proximal ulnar fracture with a proximal radial head dislocation.

Here’s what it looks like:

Of course, the orthopedic surgeons have a classification system for this based on the directions the bones fracture and dislocate. I won’t bore you with the details.

Unlike the Galeazzi fracture, all of these require operative repair, even in children. This helps stabilize the radial head and decreases the incidence of malunion.

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