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Heterotopic ossification in the reaming tract of a percutaneous antegrade femoral nail: a case report
© Botolin et al.; licensee BioMed Central Ltd. 2013
Received: 7 December 2012
Accepted: 21 February 2013
Published: 4 April 2013
Heterotopic ossification is a rare complication of musculoskeletal injuries, characterized by bone growth in soft tissues. Percutaneous antegrade intramedullary nailing represents the ‘gold standard’ for the treatment of femur shaft fractures. Minor bone growth is frequently seen around the proximal end of reamed femoral nails (so-called ‘callus caps’), which are asymptomatic and lack a therapeutic implication. The occurrence of excessive, symptomatic heterotopic ossification around the entry site of an antegrade femoral nail is rarely described in the literature.
We present the case of a 28-year-old Caucasian woman who developed extensive heterotopic ossification around the reaming seeds of a reamed femoral nail. She developed severe pain and significantly impaired range of motion of the hip joint, requiring revision surgery for heterotopic ossification resection and adjunctive local irradiation. She recovered full function of the hip and remained asymptomatic at her two-year follow-up appointment.
Severe heterotopic ossification represents a rare but potentially detrimental complication after percutaneous femoral nailing of femur shaft fractures. Diligent care during the reaming procedure, including placement of a trocar to protect from osteogenic seeding of the soft tissues, may help decrease the risk of developing heterotopic ossification after reamed antegrade femoral nailing.
Heterotopic ossification (HO) represents a debilitating condition characterized by bone formation in soft tissue that normally does not calcify [1–3]. HO occurs mainly around the hip and elbow joint, and is associated with subjective pain and progressive joint stiffness [4, 5]. The pioneer of intramedullary nailing, Gerhard Küntscher, was among the first to report ‘callus caps’ in the abductor region of the hip after femoral nail fixation in the 1960s . Subsequent studies in the 1990s revealed that the incidence of HO was significantly decreased in unreamed compared to reamed femoral nailing . However, due to its biological and mechanical superiority, reamed antegrade intramedullary nailing (IMN) remains the accepted ‘gold standard’ for the management of femur shaft fractures . This case report presents the rare scenario of a young patient who developed significant HO at the entry site of an interlocking femoral nail after percutaneous antegrade reamed IMN fixation of a femoral shaft fracture. Presumptive root causes, preventability, and therapeutic measures are discussed and placed into perspective of the pertinent peer-reviewed literature.
Heterotopic ossification (HO) after antegrade reamed femoral nailing is a common postoperative problem that, however, frequently lacks a therapeutic implication [6, 7, 12]. Brumback and colleagues implemented a classification system of HO after femoral intramedullary nailing based on the length of the HO, which is the distance between the proximal end of the nail and the most proximal end of the HO . This classification is based on increasing severity from grade 0 to IV . The patient presented in the current report developed HO grade III (that is >2cm but without extension to the pelvis). Biyani and colleagues investigated hip abduction in patient with HO and found marked hip abductor weakness of 32 to 80 percent (mean 48.6 percent) in patients with various degrees of HO . Our patient developed a complete impairment of hip abduction (0°) that was restored to a normal function after HO excision. Although HO in our patient did not induce a complete ankylosis of the hip joint, surgical excision demonstrated two large HOs measuring more than 4cm in length (Figure 7A) that together drastically affected hip function, to a limited range of motion described in detail above. As supported by the successful outcome in the present study, we recommend considering HO resection, in conjunction with peri-operative irradiation, at a time point when the activity of the heterotopic ossification appears resolved on a preoperative bone scan.
Ongoing debate as far back as the 1980s centered on the notion that small incisions are not necessarily associated with a decreased extent of soft tissue trauma , a problem which may directly relate to the operative technique applied in the present case . Multiple root causes of HO induced after reamed femoral nailing have been discussed in the literature, including the reasonable argument of local seeding of osteogenic reaming debris in the surrounding soft tissues . However, most available data are derived from experimental animal studies [14, 15]. In support of the notion of osteogenic reaming debris contributing to the development of HO, Furlong et al. demonstrated a significant decrease in HO incidence with nonreamed femoral nailing compared to traditionally reamed IMN (9.4 percent versus 35.7 percent) . However, the residual incidence of almost 10 percent of HO in nonreamed IMN provides an argument against the reaming debris as the sole contributing root cause . Since reamed femoral IMN represents the current ‘gold standard’ for fixation of femur shaft fractures [8, 9], a deviation from this concept would likely increase the risk for complications related to unreamed nailing, including hardware failure, malunion, and nonunion [16, 17].
Intuitively, one would argue that copious soft tissue irrigation prior to wound closure would decrease the risk of HO by washing out the osteogenic reaming debris. However, the study by Brumback and colleagues failed to support this notion, since a standardized wound irrigation with 3L of saline by pulsatile lavage did not decrease the incidence of HO . Ischemic injury to the hip abductors represents a known root cause of HO, which may be minimized by diligent care of the soft tissues during the femoral nailing procedure . Based on the currently available evidence, it is fair to conclude that both the reaming debris and the extent of traumatic and intraoperative injury to the surrounding soft tissues at the operative site play a role in the development of HO after antegrade reamed femoral IMN. The management of symptomatic HO is purely surgical, whereas, the established secondary prophylaxis consists of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) (such as indomethacin), in conjunction with preoperative or immediate postoperative local irradiation of the operative site . This concept was successfully applied in the patient presented in the current case report, and the patient was asymptomatic at two years of follow-up after the index procedure of femoral nailing.
Symptomatic HO after reamed IMN of femur shaft fractures represents a common postoperative complication, albeit without clinical relevance in most cases. As outlined in the present case report, patients may rarely develop significant HO characterized by subjective pain and compromised hip function, up to full joint stiffness (ankylosis). Osteogenic reaming debris and operative soft-tissue injury appear to represent the main known root causes of HO after femoral nailing. Despite the absence of strong evidence, the diligent intraoperative care of the soft tissues in conjunction with the use of a trocar during the reaming process to avoid local seeding of reaming debris, and copious fluid irrigation, appear to represent intuitive parameters that can be influenced by the surgeon. Further research is required to fully understand the pathogenesis of HO and to determine risk factors, root causes, and preventability of this potentially detrimental complication.
Written informed consent was obtained from the patient for publication of this case report and accompanying images. A copy of the written consent is available for review by the Editor-in-Chief of this journal.
The authors are indebted to Loretta Gaido, MD (Denver Health Medical Center) for help with the interpretation of the histopathological analysis shown in Figure 7.
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