Lower extremity fracture fixation in head-injured patients

J Trauma. 1992 May;32(5):654-9. doi: 10.1097/00005373-199205000-00019.


Compared with nonsurgical management or delayed repair, early fracture fixation can reduce the incidence of pulmonary complications in patients with long-bone fractures of the lower extremities. Blunt trauma victims often have multiple nonskeletal injuries that might influence the risk of pulmonary complications, and when head injuries are present it has been a common practice to delay nonemergent operations for several days to protect the injured brain. We conducted a retrospective review of 114 patients with multiple trauma whose injuries included head trauma and a fracture of the neck or shaft of the femur or shaft of the tibia to determine if delayed stabilization of lower extremity fractures increased the risk of pulmonary complications or reduced the risk of cerebral complications. Forty-six patients underwent surgical fixation of their fractures within 24 hours of injury (early fixation), 26 patients had their fractures repaired more than 24 hours after injury (late fixation), and 42 patients did not undergo surgical fracture fixation. The risk of pulmonary complications was not related to the timing of surgical fracture fixation but was strongly influenced by the severity of injuries to the head and to the chest (p less than 0.001). Furthermore, a delay in fracture fixation did not protect the injured brain; the risk of CNS events was determined by the severity of the head injury (p less than 0.0001). Early fracture fixation in patients with head injury may be appropriate because it simplifies patient care and does not seem to worsen the head injury, but it does not prevent pulmonary complications in these high-risk patients.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Craniocerebral Trauma / complications*
  • Fracture Fixation, Internal / methods
  • Fractures, Bone / complications*
  • Fractures, Bone / surgery
  • Glasgow Coma Scale
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Injury Severity Score
  • Leg Injuries / complications*
  • Lung Diseases / etiology*
  • Lung Diseases / prevention & control
  • Middle Aged
  • Multiple Trauma / complications*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Risk Factors
  • Time Factors