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Femoral shaft fractures are usually the result of high energy trauma and are often associated with poly-trauma. Inappropriate treatment results in prolonged morbidity and disability. The treatment of choice for fixation is an interlocking intramedullary nail inserted by closed technique. This study reviewed the perioperative difficulties associated with late nailing of femoral fractures at a busy trauma unit.

Thirty four consecutive femoral nails were reviewed retrospectively. Delay to surgery, operative time and peri-operative morbidity was assessed. There were 27 males and 7 females. The average age was 30.5 years. Eleven patients were referred from a peripheral hospital. Motor vehicle collisions accounted for 22 fractures, and gun shot wounds for 7. There were 29 mid shaft injuries, 2 subtrochanteric and 3 distal femurs (Retrograde nails). Preoperative immobilization was by Thomas splint or skin traction. Six operations were done by a consultant, 17 by a senior registrar and 10 by a junior registrar.

The average delay to theatre was 32 days (range 10–63). Nineteen femurs required open reduction. Open reduction resulted in increased operating time: 117 minutes versus 82 minutes for closed reduction. Nine patients required perioperative blood transfusion and 2 patients were admitted to high care post operatively. Leg length discrepancy post operatively ranged from 0 to 4cm. Early knee range of motion was limited.

Delay to surgery was due to insufficient theatre availability, and delay in referral from peripheral hospitals. We found that the delay to surgery resulted in increased operative difficulty, operative time and perioperative morbidity. Late nailing of fractures requires meticulous preoperative planning by the entire theatre team, and careful, experienced surgical technique.

Correspondence should be addressed to: Léana Fourie, CEO SAOA, PO Box 12918, Brandhof 9324 South Africa.