Rolando Fracture Treatment & Management

Updated: Jan 04, 2023
  • Author: John J Walsh, IV, MD; Chief Editor: Harris Gellman, MD  more...
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Approach Considerations

Significant joint incongruity (ie, >1-2 mm of articular stepoff) mandates treatment. However, the type of treatment can vary and is somewhat controversial.

Large articular fragments in which screws can be used are probably best supported by plate-and-screw fixation, whereas massive comminution is best treated with a form of traction. Open fractures require debridement, and operative stabilization is recommended to stabilize the skeleton and allow soft-tissue healing. Pin fixation or external fixation is preferred in the presence of open injuries to minimize soft-tissue stripping. [16]

Contraindications for surgery are few; a systemically ill patient following polytrauma who cannot undergo any surgical procedure is an example of a patient in whom surgery would be contraindicated. An open fracture that has large fragments (normally treated with plate-and-screw fixation) and is massively contaminated would best be managed with traction and repeated debridements.

Additional research will help identify fractures that safely can be managed with internal fixation alone, as well as help differentiate these injuries from the more severely comminuted fractures that need external fixation for ligamentotaxis and protection of the fracture.


Surgical Therapy

If open reduction is thought to be a reasonable choice for the patient with a Rolando fracture, a curvilinear incision is made at the thumb base. Branches of the superficial radial nerve dorsally and the lateral antebrachial cutaneous nerve volarly are identified with loupe magnification, isolated, and protected.

The periosteum is split along the first metacarpal shaft, and the joint is entered in the interval between the abductor pollicis longus (APL) and extensor pollicis brevis (EPB) tendons. Large articular fragments are identified. The articular surface is reconstructed in a piecemeal fashion with fine Kirschner wires (K-wires) and then secured to the metacarpal shaft by using a small T plate (see the image below). Intraoperative radiographs are obtained to confirm a satisfactory reduction, and the limb is placed in a thumb spica splint.

Radiograph of a healed Rolando fracture following Radiograph of a healed Rolando fracture following fixation of the articular surface and neutralization with a small plate.

Comminuted metacarpal base fractures that cannot be secured with pins or screws can be treated with external fixation. [16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21] One technique involves a quadrilateral frame with two pins each in the thumb and index metacarpals, limited K-wire fixation of the articular surface, and bone grafting of any metaphyseal void that has been created after length restoration. Another technique involves placing fixator pins in the trapezium and metacarpal shaft to maintain distraction.

Byrne et al recommended dynamic "S"-Quattro (Stockport Serpentine Spring System) as a primary and definitive treatment modality for external fixation of complex fractures of the base of the thumb when conservative and other surgical interventions have failed. [17]

Spangberg and Thoren described the use of oblique K-wire traction in the treatment of Bennett fracture. [22] Gelberman expanded this to include comminuted metacarpal base fractures and trapezial fractures. [23] The technique involves use of a single K-wire that is passed from the metacarpal base out of the thumb web, with a small hook on the proximal end of the wire. The distal end is then attached to an outrigger through rubber bands. Active motion is started to mold the joint surface. This traction neutralizes displacing muscle forces and maintains reduction through ligamentotaxis.

Wang et al (N = 40) evaluated the clinical efficacy of closed reduction and percutaneous parallel K-wire interlocking fixation between the first and second metacarpals (n = 20) as compared with traditional fixation (N = 20) for treatment of first metacarpal base fractures. [24]  The modified fixation technique was associated with shorter operating times, lower postoperative visual analogue scale (VAS) pain score, and better effective range of motion in the first carpometacarpal (CMC) joint



Complications are often directly related to the extent of the comminution. Hardware-related issues can develop, such as pin-tract infection or screw pullout with resultant loss of fixation. Soft-tissue complications include damage to the branches of the superficial radial or lateral antebrachial cutaneous nerve. Some degree of joint stiffness is inevitable, given the articular nature of the fracture.


Long-Term Monitoring

Secure plate fixation can allow early motion of the joint surface. However, if the comminution requires grafting and stability is a concern, immobilization in a thumb spica cast for 4-6 weeks is the safest course of action. External fixators, K-wires, or both can be removed at approximately 6 weeks postoperatively, and active motion can begin.