Diaphyseal long bone nonunions - types, aetiology, economics, and treatment recommendations

Int Orthop. 2018 Feb;42(2):247-258. doi: 10.1007/s00264-017-3734-5. Epub 2017 Dec 22.


The intention of the current article is to review the epidemiology with related socioeconomic costs, pathophysiology, and treatment options for diaphyseal long bone delayed unions and nonunions. Diaphyseal nonunions in the tibia and in the femur are estimated to occur 4.6-8% after modern intramedullary nailing of closed fractures with an even much higher risk in open fractures. There is a high socioeconomic burden for long bone nonunions mainly driven by indirect costs, such as productivity losses due to long treatment duration. The classic classification of Weber and Cech of the 1970s is based on the underlying biological aspect of the nonunion differentiating between "vital" (hypertrophic) and "avital" (hypo-/atrophic) nonunions, and can still be considered to represent the basis for basic evaluation of nonunions. The "diamond concept" units biomechanical and biological aspects and provides the pre-requisites for successful bone healing in nonunions. For humeral diaphyseal shaft nonunions, excellent results for augmentation plating were reported. In atrophic humeral shaft nonunions, compression plating with stimulation of bone healing by bone grafting or BMPs seem to be the best option. For femoral and tibial diaphyseal shaft fractures, dynamization of the nail is an atraumatic, effective, and cheap surgical possibility to achieve bony consolidation, particularly in delayed nonunions before 24 weeks after initial surgery. In established hypertrophic nonunions in the tibia and femur, biomechanical stability should be addressed by augmentation plating or exchange nailing. Hypotrophic or atrophic nonunions require additional biological stimulation of bone healing for augmentation plating.

Keywords: Bone grafting; Femur; Fracture; Humerus; Nailing; Nonunion; Plating; Tibia.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Bone Nails
  • Bone Transplantation / methods
  • Cell- and Tissue-Based Therapy / methods
  • Diaphyses / injuries*
  • Diaphyses / surgery
  • Female
  • Fracture Fixation / methods
  • Fracture Healing / physiology
  • Fractures, Bone / complications*
  • Fractures, Bone / surgery
  • Fractures, Ununited / economics
  • Fractures, Ununited / epidemiology
  • Fractures, Ununited / surgery*
  • Health Care Costs / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Risk Factors
  • Treatment Outcome