How Urgent are Open Fractures?

Dahners photo

Dr. Laurence Dahners

by Laurence E. Dahners, M.D.

A relatively new factor to consider in the treatment of trauma victims with open fractures is the fact that the data do not support the concept that open fractures are “emergencies requiring surgical debridement within six hours.” Initial studies were in pediatric open fracture but recently papers regarding infection rates in adults have been published as well. None of these studies has shown a statistically significant difference in infection rates in fractures debrided in less than six hours as compared to those debrided between six and twenty-four hours. The “trends” (non statistical differences) lean toward higher infection rates in those debrided in the first six hours! It does make a huge difference how soon the antibiotics are started so this remains very important. It is difficult to rationalize why early debridement would not lower infection rates but I hypothesize that it may be easier to differentiate necrotic from viable tissue when the debridement is carried out after six hours. In any case I now perform debridement during the daylight hours.

Dr. Dahners is a Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery at the UNC School of Medicine in Chapel Hill, NC, USA.  His clinical focus is on trauma and his research interests are in ligament physiology, ligament healing, ligament growth and contracture, and bone healing and the biomechanics of internal fixation.  You can see his “Pearls of Orthopaedics” on