Early appropriate care: Definitive stabilization of femoral fractures within 24 hours of injury is safe in most patients with multiple injuries

Nickolas J. Nahm, John J. Como, John H. Wilber, Heather A. Vallier

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

92 Scopus citations


BACKGROUND: Type and timing of treatment of femur fractures is controversial. Although reported as safe and effective in many reports, others have suggested that early definitive stabilization may cause complications, particularly in patients with chest and head injuries. Damage control orthopedics was proposed as an alternative in unstable patients. This study examines the effects of timing of fixation and investigates risk factors for complications. METHODS: Seven hundred fifty patients with femur fractures treated between 1999 and 2006 were reviewed. Skeletally mature patients with mean age 35.8 years and mean Injury Severity Score (ISS) 23.7 were included. Four hundred ninety-two patients had ISS ≥18. Early stabilization (n = 656) was defined as definitive treatment of the femur fracture within 24 hours of injury. RESULTS: Early definitive stabilization in patients with multiple injuries was associated with fewer complications than delayed stabilization (18.9% vs. 42.9%, p < 0.037) after adjusting for patient age and ISS. Early treatment was also associated with shorter hospital stay, intensive care unit stay, and ventilator days (p < 0.001). Severe (Abbreviated Injury Scale score ≥3) abdominal injury was associated with more complications than severe head (Glasgow Coma Scale score ≤8) and chest (Abbreviated Injury Scale score ≥3) injuries (44.2% vs. 40.9%, p = 0.68, and 34.4%, p = 0.024, respectively) and was an independent risk factor for complications (p < 0.0001). Chest injury was an independent risk factor for pulmonary complications (p < 0.001), but surgical delay in patients with chest injury was also associated with pulmonary complications (p = 0.04). More sepsis was noted patients with severe head injury (22.7% vs. 4.5%, p = 0.037) or severe chest injury (10.2% vs. 2.5%, p = 0.044) when treated on a delayed basis. More patients transferred from other hospitals were treated on a delayed basis (48.9% vs. 37.5%, p = 0.04). CONCLUSIONS: Early definitive stabilization is associated with acceptably low rates of complications and is safe in most patients with multiple injuries, including some with severe abdominal, chest, or head injuries with attention to resuscitation before surgery. More complications and longer hospital stay were noted with delayed fixation after adjusting for age and ISS. Chest injury was associated with pulmonary complications; however, the presence of severe abdominal injury was the greatest risk factor for complications. Expediting access to definitive care may reduce complications and expenses.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)175-185
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Trauma - Injury, Infection and Critical Care
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jul 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • Damage control
  • Femur fracture
  • Intramedullary nail
  • Polytrauma

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Critical Care and Intensive Care Medicine


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