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British Orthopaedic Research Society (BORS)


The fixation of comminuted femoral fractures with intramedullary nails is commonplace but there remains little work on the mechanical ability of the different diameters of nail available to resist bending. What previous work there is has produced conflicting conclusions. The bending stiffness against the intramedullary nail diameter and the extent of the comminuted fracture is clinically important due to the impact on fracture healing and implant failure.

Intramedullary nails of differing diameters (10 mm, 11 mm and 13 mm) were loaded axially in fourth generation composite femurs with increasing mid shaft bone defects, namely 3cm, 5cm, 8cm and 10cm bones. The loading versus the displacement was recorded for each nail.

A one-way ANOVA analysis demonstrated a significant difference between intramedullary nail diameters and the bending stiffness, with p values of less than 0.012; 3cm mean 12.26 (CI 9.06-15.46) mm, p=0.012; 5 cm mean 10.63 (CI 8.35-12.92) mm, p=<0.001; 8 cm mean 11.04 (CI 8.35-13.74) mm, p=<0.001; 10 cm mean 11.68 (CI 7.86-15.50) mm, p=<0.001. For the 11 mm diameter intramedullary nail, failure occurred at around two times the body weight of an average individual or 1400 to 1800 N. A repeated measure ANOVA analysis of the effect of the increasing bone defect showed a mixed picture, with a significant difference between the 5 cm and 8 cm gap and only a trend towards significance between 5 cm and 10 cm.

Caution should be advised when considering using a cannulated femoral intramedullary nail in a patient with a fracture gap of greater than 5 cm. Further, the mechanical effect of comminuted fractures treated with nails suggests reduced stiffness with increasing length of fracture gap although the picture is complex and explains the divergence of research conclusions.