Objective: To assess the effectiveness of different surgical options in the treatment of nonunion of a femoral shaft fracture after initial intramedullary nailing.
Setting: University hospital.
Patients and methods: During a seven-year period a total of 278 skeletally mature patients with 280 fresh femoral shaft fractures were treated by intramedullary nailing. Of these patients, a subgroup of consecutive patients with nonunion of the fracture were subjected to a detailed analysis and were followed until the fracture was united (mean thirty-three months). Injury mechanism, fracture pattern using various established classifications, any possible concomitant injuries, complications, and subsequent surgical interventions were recorded.
Results: Of the total of 280 fractures, nonunion was observed in thirty-four patients with thirty-five fractures (12.5 percent). To achieve solid union, one reoperation was sufficient in twenty-five fractures, six fractures had to be operated on twice, and four needed three operations. There were five patients with autogenous bone grafting alone, and all five required a further reoperation for the nonunion. After a dynamization procedure, four of seventeen patients required a further reoperation. After eight exchange nailing procedures, further surgery for nonunion was necessary in only one case. Solid union was achieved within six months after the final successful reoperation. A marked shortening of the femur developed as a local complication in six cases, four of which had undergone dynamization as final treatment before solid union.
Conclusions: Exchange nailing without extracortical bone grafting seems to be the most effective method to treat a disturbed union of a femoral shaft fracture after intramedullary nailing. Autogenous extracortical bone grafting alone proved to be insufficient. Dynamization predisposed to shortening of the bone.