Blunt vascular trauma in the extremity: diagnosis, management, and outcome

J Trauma. 2003 Nov;55(5):814-24. doi: 10.1097/01.TA.0000087807.44105.AE.


Background: Blunt vascular trauma in an extremity is an uncommon diagnosis. Considering the complexity of these injuries, it is worthwhile to determine how select factors affect the outcome of the limb and the patient. The objectives of this study were to review the diagnosis, management, and outcomes of patients who sustained blunt vascular injuries in the extremities and relate factors in their treatment to the outcome of the injured extremity.

Methods: A retrospective review of data on adult and pediatric patients who had a diagnosis of blunt vascular injury in an extremity and underwent some attempt at restoration of vascular flow was conducted.

Results: From January 1995 to December 2002, 62 patients (80.3% male; mean age, 33.2 +/- 15.8 years) sustained blunt trauma (mean Injury Severity Score, 14.6 +/- 8.4), with 93 vascular injuries in 65 extremities (16 upper and 49 lower). Hard signs of vascular injury occurred in 41 (66%) patients. An associated fracture and/or dislocation was present in 59 patients (95%). Preoperative arteriograms were obtained in 20 patients (17 occlusions, 2 embolizations, and 1 untreated). Vessel injuries were as follows: 16 upper (brachial artery, 50%) and 63 lower (tibial/peroneal/popliteal, 84%), with ligation being the most common treatment in the latter. Intravascular shunts were used to restore blood flow in 18 vessels (13 arteries and 5 veins) in 13 patients. Delays in diagnosis or treatment occurred in six patients, mostly because of errors in management/judgment. Delayed or late fasciotomies were performed in six patients, and five developed rhabdomyolysis. Six patients died. The age (p = 0.0006), Injury Severity Score (p = 0.0007), and Mangled Extremity Severity Score (p = 0.0009) were significantly different for the survivors compared with the nonsurvivors.

Conclusion: Blunt vascular injuries in the lower extremities occur most commonly in the anteroposterior tibial arteries; injured arteries in the proximal upper and lower extremity require resection with interposition grafting, whereas those in the forearm or calf are usually ligated; the amputation rate in 65 injured extremities with blunt vascular trauma was 18.%, which is at least three times that for those who sustain penetrating injury; and delays in diagnosis and treatment are uncommon in these patients with multiple injuries.

MeSH terms

  • Accidents, Traffic / statistics & numerical data*
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Arteries / injuries
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Female
  • Fractures, Open / classification*
  • Fractures, Open / diagnosis
  • Fractures, Open / surgery
  • Humans
  • Injury Severity Score
  • Lower Extremity / injuries*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Upper Extremity / injuries*
  • Veins / injuries
  • Wounds, Nonpenetrating / classification*
  • Wounds, Nonpenetrating / diagnosis
  • Wounds, Nonpenetrating / surgery