header advert
You currently have no access to view or download this content. Please log in with your institutional or personal account if you should have access to through either of these
The Bone & Joint Journal Logo

Receive monthly Table of Contents alerts from The Bone & Joint Journal

Comprehensive article alerts can be set up and managed through your account settings

View my account settings

Get Access locked padlock


The effect of time to irrigation and debridement on the rate of reoperation in open fractures

a propensity score-based analysis of the Fluid Lavage of Open Wounds (FLOW) study

Download PDF



Despite long-standing dogma, a clear relationship between the timing of surgical irrigation and debridement (I&D) and the development of subsequent deep infection has not been established in the literature. Traditionally, I&D of an open fracture has been recommended within six hours of injury based on animal studies from the 1970s, however the clinical basis for this remains unclear. Using data from a multicentre randomized controlled trial of 2,447 open fracture patients, the primary objective of this secondary analysis is to determine if a relationship exists between timing of wound I&D (within six hours of injury vs beyond six hours) and subsequent reoperation rate for infection or healing complications within one year for patients with open limb fractures requiring surgical treatment.


To adjust for the influence of patient and injury characteristics on the timing of I&D, a propensity score was developed from the dataset. Propensity-adjusted regression allowed for a matched cohort analysis within the study population to determine if early irrigation put patients independently at risk for reoperation, while controlling for confounding factors. Results were reported as odds ratios (ORs), 95% confidence intervals (CIs), and p-values. All analyses were conducted using STATA 14.


In total, 2,286 of 2,447 patients randomized to the trial from 41 orthopaedic trauma centres across five countries had complete data regarding time to I&D. Prior to matching, the patients managed with early I&D had a higher proportion requiring reoperation for infection or healing complications (17% vs 13%; p = 0.019), however this does not account for selection bias of more severe injuries preferentially being treated earlier. When accounting for propensity matching, early irrigation was not associated with reoperation (OR 0.71 (95% CI 0.47 to 1.07); p = 0.73).


When accounting for other variables, late irrigation does not independently increase risk of reoperation.

Cite this article: Bone Joint J 2021;103-B(6):1055–1062.

Correspondence should be sent to Sheila Sprague. E-mail:

For access options please click here