Acetabulum Fractures Treatment & Management

Updated: Oct 10, 2022
  • Author: Mihir M Thacker, MBBS, MS(Orth), DNB(Orth), FCPS(Orth), D'Ortho; Chief Editor: William L Jaffe, MD  more...
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Approach Considerations

Indications for open reduction and internal fixation (ORIF) in patients with acetabulum fractures include the following [38, 39] :

  • All displaced fractures (>2 mm articular step)
  • Intact roof-arc angle less than 30°
  • Failure to achieve or maintain concentric reduction by closed means
  • Fractures that have a medial roof-arc angle of 45° or less, an anterior roof-arc angle of 25° or less, or a posterior roof-arc angle of 70° or less across the weightbearing portion of the acetabulum, according to Vrahas et al, on the basis of a cadaveric study; persistent instability after closed reduction [7]
  • Incarcerated intra-articular fragments or impaction of the articular surface
  • Emergency ORIF if associated vascular injury or sciatic palsy develops after a closed reduction

Nonoperative treatment should be considered in the following circumstances:

  • Undisplaced fractures
  • Displaced fractures if the following conditions are met: (1) A large portion of the acetabulum remains intact and the femoral head remains congruous with this portion of the acetabulum; (2) a secondary congruence is present after only moderate displacement of a both-column fracture and the patient presents late (>3 weeks after injury)
  • Small posterosuperior-wall fractures that are associated with a stable hip joint and a congruent reduction; careful follow-up is needed to monitor for signs and symptoms of late instability in the initial months after injury
  • A posterior-wall injury that is minimally displaced or nondisplaced and is part of a more complex pattern requiring an ilioinguinal approach
  • If surgery is contraindicated

Contraindications for surgery include the following:

  • General - Severe systemic illness or secondary multiorgan failure secondary to polytrauma; systemic infections or sepsis
  • Local - Local infection; extreme  osteoporosis
  • Surgical intervention may be carried out in these cases to facilitate a salvage procedure later.
  • Relative - Severe comminution; preexisting arthrosis

Future and controversies

As techniques improve, imaging is being used more and more in the treatment of acetabular fractures. Brown et al reported the use of computer-generated three-dimensional (3D) computed tomography (CT) moving images for preoperative planning and screw/pin insertion, as well as the use of stereolithography (wax or plastic 3D model of bony anatomy) to develop a computer-generated "clip-on" interpositioning template for accurate placement of plate and screws. These technologies provide precise information about the fracture patterns and allow effective preoperative planning and accurate fixation of acetabular fractures. [40] Citak et al reported on virtual 3D planning of acetabular fracture reduction. [41]

The best modality for preoperative deep venous thrombosis (DVT) prophylaxis remains controversial; multiple options are available, but the current trend is to use sequential compression devices for prophylaxis in the preoperative period. Similarly, the best form of prophylaxis against heterotopic ossification remains controversial; however, indomethacin appears to be used most frequently at present.


Nonoperative Therapy

Nonoperative therapy consists of the following:

  • Resuscitation of the patient - Basic and advanced life support
  • Diagnosis - Clinical and radiologic, once the patient stabilizes
  • Treatment of associated life-threatening head, chest, abdominal, or other injuries
  • Urgent reduction of dislocations

Gentle closed reduction of posterior dislocations is done on an emergency basis. Management of central fracture-dislocations involves the use of heavy longitudinal skeletal traction with an upper tibial or lower femoral Steinmann pin and, if required, lateral skin traction at the upper thigh. (Reduction under general anesthesia may be necessary. This is maintained with skeletal traction. The authors do not recommend the use of an upper femoral pin for lateral traction, because this acts as an infective focus and may preclude surgery.)


Surgical Planning

Preoperative evaluation

A preoperative evaluation is used either to exclude other injuries or, if other injuries are present, to formulate a treatment plan for them. The preoperative evaluation consists of the following:

  • Ensure that the patient is medically stable for surgery
  • Type and crossmatch an adequate amount of blood; there can be significant bleeding at the time of surgery
  • Plan preoperatively with plain radiography (anteroposterior [AP] and both Judet oblique views) and CT, and keep a bone model handy at the time of surgery; with advances in technology, it is possible to generate a model of the fracture pattern and preoperatively plan the position of interfragmentary screws
  • Determine the timing of surgery - The ideal time for surgery is between days 3 and 10 after injury

With regard to the optimal timing of operative treatment, it is best to wait 2-3 days after the injury so that the initial bleeding from the intrapelvic vessels subsides. However, it is not advisable to wait for too long, because surgery becomes more complicated 2-3 weeks after the injury. If the surgery is performed beyond 3 weeks, the chances of obtaining a good result decrease significantly. [42]  

Intraoperatively, various difficulties are possible, including the following:

  • Increased blood loss because of disruption of the forming soft callus
  • Loss of definition of the fracture lines that can cause difficulty in obtaining a good reduction
  • Difficulty in identification of vital structures, thereby giving rise to increased chances of neurovascular damage and other complications
  • Contraction of the soft tissues, leading to difficulty in mobilization of the fracture fragments

However, in a retrospective review investigating the timing of surgical intervention for fractures of the acetabulum and the influence of timing on perioperative factors, Dailey et al found that whereas both-column and anterior-column posterior hemitransverse fractures were associated with greater estimated blood loss, longer operating times, and longer hospital stays than posterior-wall fractures, no differences in these parameters were noted when early fixation (≤ 48 hr) was compared with late treatment (>48 hr). [43]

Choice of surgical approach

The choice of approach usually is dictated by the fracture anatomy, but it also depends on the personal preference and experience of the operating surgeon (see Common Surgical Approaches and Extensile Surgical Approaches below). Guidelines for the choice of approach are as follows [38, 44, 45] :

  • Anterior fracture, cephalad to iliopectineal eminence - Iliofemoral
  • Anterior fracture, patients with complex injuries requiring exposure of the symphysis or quadrilateral plate - Ilioinguinal
  • Posterior wall/column - Kocher-Langenbeck [46]
  • Transverse with posterior lip - Kocher-Langenbeck or transtrochanteric
  • Transverse without posterior lip - Depending on the rotation of the fracture
  • T-shaped - Depending on the fracture pattern, ilioinguinal/Kocher-Langenbeck/combined/extensile
  • Both columns - Ilioinguinal, modified ilioinguinal/combined/extensile

Of these exposures, the ones commonly performed are the following:

  • Ilioinguinal exposure for anterior-column or T-shaped or bicolumnar fractures with mild comminution in the posterior column
  • Kocher-Langenbeck exposure for posterior-column injuries.

Isaacson et al investigated the use of the modified Stoppa approach for the treatment of acetabulum fractures with regard to three outcomes: hip function, complications, and quality of fracture reduction and percentage of fractures that united. [47]  They concluded that for a variety of acetabular fractures, this approach yields good functional outcomes with minimal complications.

Bastian et al compared the modified Stoppa approach with the pararectus approach for for patients with acetabular fractures involving the anterior column. [48]  They found that the latter facilitated surgical access in the false pelvis, provided versatility for fracture fixation in the posterior pelvic ring, and afforded the surgeon the option to extend the approach without a new incision.

Kwak et al evaluated the use of an anatomic suprapectineal quadrilateral surface (QLS) plate through the modified Stoppa approach (n = 16) to treat superomedially displaced acetabular fractures and compared surgical outcomes with those of fixation with the conventional reconstruction plate in a modified ilioinguinal approach (n = 23). [49] They found that the operating time was shorter and blood loss was less in the QLS plate fixation group.

Arthroscopy has been used in certain cases of acetabular fractures to remove intra-articular loose fragments. However, potentially fatal complications, such as intra-abdominal compartment syndrome due to extravasation of fluid under pressure, have been reported with its use.48 Arthroscopy may be appropriate for reduction and fixation of certain acetabular fractures in carefully selected patients. [50]


Common Surgical Approaches

Kocher-Langenbeck approach

The ideal indication for the Kocher-Langenbeck approach (see the images below) is an isolated fracture of the posterior wall and/or column with or without dislocation (types A1 and A2 on the Arbeitsgemeinschaft für Osteosynthesefragen–Association for the Study of Internal Fixation [AO-ASIF]  classification). The approach can also be used in types B1 and B2 fractures on the AO-ASIF classification. This approach can be used when the major rotation and displacement are posterior.

Incision for the Kocher-Langenbeck approach. Incision for the Kocher-Langenbeck approach.
Kocher-Langenbeck approach. Kocher-Langenbeck approach.

The patient is placed in the lateral or prone position. The lateral position is more common with most surgeons because it allows easy maneuverability of the limb.

The prone position is used particularly with the transverse or T-type fractures, where, if a lateral position is used, the femoral head tends to keep the fracture surfaces apart because of gravity. This creates difficulty in reduction. The advantages of the prone position in this situation are that it requires one assistant fewer and that it facilitates relaxation of the sciatic nerve. The hip should be kept extended and the knee flexed throughout the procedure to avoid any tension on the sciatic nerve.

The incision starts at the posterior superior iliac spine (PSIS), proceeds to the greater trochanter, and then continues distally along the femur as necessary. The fascia lata and the gluteus maximus fascia are divided in line with the incision. The maximus is split along its fibers, with care taken to protect the inferior gluteal nerve. The insertion of the gluteus maximus on the femur may be divided partially or completely to increase exposure.

The gluteus medius, the external rotators, and the sciatic nerve are now seen. The short external rotators are incised close to the greater trochanter, with care taken to avoid cutting the quadratus femoris so as to protect the ascending branch of the medial circumflex femoral artery. The plane between the external rotators and the capsule of the hip joint is developed carefully by gentle dissection.

The gluteus medius and minimus are raised subperiosteally from the ilium and retracted with a Steinmann pin. The superior gluteal vessels and nerve, which emerge from the inner pelvis in this area, must be protected.

The fracture fragments usually are found attached to the capsule, which forms the only soft-tissue attachment to the fragments and, hence, their only source of blood supply. Care should be taken not to denude the attachment.

The entire posterior column and the posterior wall of the acetabulum are now exposed from the top of the notch to the ischial tuberosity. Retraction of the gluteus medius may not be adequate for fixation of some high posterior column or transverse fractures. To increase the exposure of the roof of the acetabulum, a trochanteric osteotomy may be carried out (see the image below).

Trochanteric osteotomy to increase the exposure du Trochanteric osteotomy to increase the exposure during a Kocher-Langenbeck approach.

Ebraheim et al reviewed 30 patients in whom a sliding trochanteric osteotomy was used as an adjunct procedure for treating acetabular fratures. [51]  They concluded that the technique was reliable for providing adequate exposure of the dome of the acetabulum without associated complications that can occur with standard oblique osteotomy.

Another alternative is to do a "trochanteric flip," in which the abductor and the vastus lateralis, in continuity with a small medallion of the trochanter (which is osteotomized in a sagittal plane), are retracted anteriorly to expose the dome of the acetabulum. The advantage of this over a routine trochanteric osteotomy is that the abductors and the vastus lateralis remain in continuity through the trochanter, enabling easy restoration of the anatomy.

A careful arthrotomy, if needed, can be performed. By flexion and external rotation of the hip with lateral traction and by retraction of the fragment, an excellent view of the entire cavity is possible. Soft-tissue release of the inner surface of the quadrilateral plate can be performed through the sciatic notches subperiosteally, if necessary, after the ischial spine is osteotomized (especially in late fractures).

A constant vessel exists within the gluteus muscle 1-2 cm from the sciatic notch, which, if not taken proper care of while retracting or dissecting, tends to produce troublesome bleeding.

In a study of patients with posterior-wall fractures and late revision surgery with the Kocher-Langenbeck approach, three of the four patients eventually required total hip arthroplasty (THA). [46]  The authors concluded that if salvage procedures are delayed more than 3 weeks, THA is more likely to be ultimately required, especially in older patients. Older age, posterior-wall involvement, and femoral head lesion/subluxation have been associated with the need for THA after acetabular fracture. [52]

In a study that included 70 elderly patients (52 men, 18 women, median age, 79.0 years; range, 65-104) with acetabular fractures, Rommens et al found that ORIF resulted in excellent outcomes at short-term (median, 30 months) follow-up when anatomic reduction could be achieved. [53] In the presence of negative predictive factors, they did not regard ORIF as a definitive solution but, rather, as involving the construction of a stable socket for secondary THA.

Collinge et al concluded that acetabular fractures reduced and stabilized using the Kocher-Langenbeck approach had a higher rate of radiographic residual fracture displacement if treated in the lateral as compared with the prone position. [54]

Ilioinguinal approach

Described by Letournel, the ilioinguinal approach (see the images below) is suitable for the following fracture types:

  • Anterior-wall fractures
  • Anterior-column fractures
  • Combined anterior-column fractures with posterior hemitransverse extension
  • Types A3 and B3 fractures (AO-ASIF) where the major rotation and displacement are anterior
  • Both-column fractures
Ilioinguinal approach: Femoral vessels and the ili Ilioinguinal approach: Femoral vessels and the iliopsoas looped with catheters. The 3 windows of the ilioinguinal approach: Lateral to the iliopsoas, between the iliopsoas and the vessels, and between the vessels and the spermatic cord. (The lateral femoral cutaneous nerve is seen traversing lateral to the iliopsoas toward the anterior superior iliac spine.)
Ilioinguinal approach: Anterior column plate. Ilioinguinal approach: Anterior column plate.

The ilioinguinal approach provides exposure of the entire inner table of the innominate bone from the symphysis pubis to the anterior aspect of the sacroiliac joint, including the quadrilateral surface and the pubic rami.

Merits of this approach include the following:

  • Excellent visualization of the entire anterior column of the acetabulum
  • Less incidence of heterotopic ossification as compared with the posterior approaches
  • Rapid postoperative rehabilitation is possible

Dangers of the ilioinguinal approach include injury to the iliac vessels, lymphatic system, femoral nerve, and lateral cutaneous femoral nerve.

The patient is positioned supine. If a combined approach (anterior and posterior) is planned, the floppy lateral position is then preferred. The incision is placed 2 cm above the inguinal ligament and parallel to it, from the midline to the anterior superior iliac spine (ASIS), and then curved along the anterior two thirds of the iliac crest.

The origin of the abdominal muscles from the iliac crest is erased sharply and retracted medially. The iliacus origin from the inner pelvic wall is now seen. The iliacus origin is then erased subperiosteally, and the dissection is carried out posteriorly and inferiorly to expose the anterior sacroiliac joint and pelvic brim.

Through the medial part of the incision, the external inguinal ring is identified, and the spermatic cord (in females, the round ligament) is protected with a rubber catheter. The external oblique aponeurosis is incised 1 cm proximal to the ring, with the ring kept intact and the lateral 5 mm of the aponeurosis left near the ASIS to protect the lateral cutaneous femoral nerve. Care should be taken to protect the inferior epigastric artery.

The distal flap of the external oblique aponeurosis is raised to reach the reflected part of the inguinal ligament. This ligament is incised along its length so as to leave 1 mm of the ligament attached to the internal oblique and transversus abdominis origins and the transversalis fascia.

The next step is to identify the iliopectineal fascia, which divides the iliopsoas with the femoral nerve (lacuna musculorum) from the external iliac vessels (lacuna vasorum). This is the most dangerous and most important part of the approach. The iliac vessels are retracted, the iliopectineal fascia is identified and then cut with blunt-tip scissors from lateral to medial, and the cut is continued laterally behind the psoas. Next, the psoas with the femoral nerve is retracted as a unit after a rubber catheter is inserted around them.

After the iliac vessels are dissected with the associated lymphatic tissues as a single unit, along with the areolar tissue around them (to protect the lymphatics and prevent postoperative limb swelling), these tissues are held together with a third rubber catheter. Take care to identify the obturator vessels and nerve. Be aware of the abnormal origin of the obturator artery as an anatomic variant. If found to be present, the abnormal vessel must be ligated. The periosteum on the inner surface of the pelvis along the quadrilateral plate is cleared.

The exposure is now established through three windows, as follows:

  • Retracting the psoas medially allows exposure of the internal iliac fossa, the pelvic brim, and the anterior sacroiliac joint; this exposure is facilitated by flexing and internally rotating the hip to relax the iliopsoas
  • The middle window is created by retracting the psoas laterally and the vessels medially; this allows the superior pubic ramus and the quadrilateral plate to be visualized
  • The medial window is seen by retracting the vessels laterally and the spermatic cord medially; this maneuver provides access to the remainder of the pubic ramus, the pubic symphysis, and the quadrilateral surface; the most medial part can best be visualized with lateral retraction of the spermatic cord

If necessary, the inguinal ligament and the sartorius from the ASIS, the tensor fasciae latae, and the gluteal muscles from the lateral surface of the ilium can be released to aid exposure.

The entire anterior column is now easily visualized. Useful access to the posterior column can be obtained through the second (middle) window by manipulating the quadrilateral plate. The interior of the joint can be visualized by distracting the fracture fragments. Intra-articular visualization can be improved by combining the iliofemoral approach (the distal part of the approach) with this procedure.

Before closure, drains are left in the retropubic space and internal iliac fossa. All structures are repaired.

Iliofemoral approach

Letournel modified the Smith-Petersen approach to define the iliofemoral approach for the acetabulum. This procedure is indicated for anterior-column fractures in which the fracture line does not extend medial (caudal) to the iliopectineal eminence.

The patient is positioned supine. If combined with a posterior approach, a floppy lateral position is preferred. The incision is made on the iliac crest, from the middle of the crest to the ASIS, and then along the sartorius. The periosteum is sharply raised from the iliac crest, and the iliopsoas is stripped from the interior of the ilium. The lateral cutaneous nerve of the thigh is identified and protected.

The interval between the sartorius and the tensor fasciae latae is developed to expose the rectus femoris if exposure of the hip joint is required. The exposure can be extended along the lateral aspect of the ilium by stripping the gluteal muscles to see the anterior aspect of the hip joint and anterior inferior iliac spine. The exposure can be improved as needed with division of the sartorius and inguinal ligament insertion and the direct head of the rectus femoris, which is part of the hip joint capsule.

An advantage of this approach is easy access. No dissection of the femoral vessels, as in the ilioinguinal approach, is required. A disadvantage of the approach is limited anterior column access. Another disadvantage is that medial to the iliopectineal eminence, the exposure should be established with the ilioinguinal approach, which usually limits fixation options to screws or short plates in this approach. Also, injury to the lateral cutaneous nerve of the thigh is difficult to prevent with this approach.

Combined approach

When access to both columns is required, a combined approach is used. [55, 56, 57, 58]  This involves the combination of one anterior and one posterior approach (described above), under the same anesthesia.

The patient is placed in the floppy lateral position and is rocked back and forth as needed. The anterior approach is more difficult, in that the procedure with this approach is best performed with the patient in the supine position. Technical details of exposure remain the same as for the individual approaches.

An advantage of a combined procedure is that the entire posterior wall and column (with or without trochanteric osteotomy), the entire anterior wall and column, the sacroiliac joint, and the pubic symphysis can be visualized. The disadvantages inherent in a single extensile approach (eg, the incidence of heterotopic ossification, weakness of abductors, and jeopardy for the vascularity of the abductors) are lower with a combined approach. A disadvantage of a combined approach is that the entire fracture is not visualized through a single approach.


Extensile Surgical Approaches

Extended iliofemoral approach

Letournel developed an extended iliofemoral approach that provides complete exposure of the inner and outer tables of the ilium and the acetabulum. This is an extended approach for difficult transtectal transverse, T-type, and both-column fractures with posterior wall involvement.

The patient is placed in the lateral position. Keep the hip extended and the knee flexed throughout the procedure to prevent traction injury to the sciatic nerve. The inverted J–shaped incision starts at the PSIS, courses along the iliac crest to the ASIS, and then turns distally parallel to the femur on the anterolateral aspect of the thigh.

The periosteum over the iliac crest is sharply incised; the gluteal muscles and the tensor fasciae latae are elevated from the outer aspect of the iliac bone. The fascia lata over the tensor fasciae latae is opened, the muscle is retracted posteriorly, and the rectus femoris, which lies beneath it, is identified. The ascending branch of the lateral circumflex femoral artery, which is found between the rectus femoris and the vastus lateralis, is identified and ligated.

The tendons of the gluteus minimus and the gluteus medius are cut in the midportion, and tag sutures are inserted at the cut ends. The piriformis and the obturator internus are cut and tagged, with care taken to preserve the quadratus femoris and the underlying ascending branch of the medial circumflex femoral artery. Alternatively, the insertion of these external rotators can be osteotomized.

The entire posterior column can now be seen with a retractor inserted near the sciatic notch. This also brings into view the ischial spine and tuberosity.

The reflected head of the rectus femoris is elevated from its origin to aid exposure of the hip joint. The abdominal muscle origin from the iliac crest, sartorius origin from the ASIS, and the iliacus from the inner table of ilium are erased to expose the anterior column of the acetabulum. The capsule is incised along the rim of the acetabulum to allow intra-articular exposure as the femoral head is pulled laterally.

During closure, the rectus femoris, the sartorius, the fascial layers of the hip abductors, and the tensor fasciae latae are reattached to the iliac bone by transosseous sutures. The gluteus minimus and medius tendons are repaired. The short external rotators are also reattached.

An advantage of this approach is that it is a lateral approach to the innominate bone, which allows excellent simultaneous exposure of both columns. A disadvantage is that the extensive stripping of muscles from the lateral side of the ilium that is required impairs the vascularity of the abductors.

Although this disadvantage has been studied through in-vivo and cadaveric studies, definite evidence of muscle necrosis and significant weakness as a result of this approach has not been proved to be an invariable consequence, but heterotopic ossification is much more common in this approach. [59, 60]  This is understandable, in view of the extensive attachment of the abductors to the ilium. Injury to the femoral nerve has also been documented.

Reinert et al modified the extended iliofemoral approach to allow later reconstructive procedures (Maryland approach). [61]  The incision is positioned more laterally and is T-shaped. The hip abductor muscles are mobilized by an oblique osteotomy of the origin and the insertion. Rigid bone-to-bone reattachment allows early rehabilitation with less risk of failure than when the abductors are reattached through soft tissue.

Some authors have prescribed a preoperative arteriogram (as in the extended iliofemoral approach) if a displaced fracture is present at the sciatic notch to prevent necrosis of the hip abductors, in view of the stripping required for exposure.

Triradiate approach

Mears and Rubash have described an extensile approach to the lateral aspect of the ilium, the entire anterior column and wall, the entire posterior column and wall, the anterior aspect of the sacroiliac joint, and the inner iliac wall. [44, 45]  This procedure is referred to as the triradiate approach (see the image below) and is indicated for transtectal transverse fractures, T-shaped fractures, and both-column fractures with posterior-wall involvement. This approach is an alternative to the extended iliofemoral approach.

The triradiate approach. The triradiate approach.

The patient is placed in a lateral position. A Y-shaped incision is made, the posterior segment of which is the same as in the Kocher-Langenbeck approach. The anterior limb of the Y starts at the greater trochanter from this incision at an angle of 120° and extends beyond the ASIS to the front of the abdomen.

The fascia lata is cut along the longitudinal part of the incision. The interval anterior to the tensor fasciae latae is developed by dissecting it from the fascia, and then the muscle along with the abductors is stripped from the lateral aspect of the ilium. The gluteus maximus is split along the posterior limb of the incision parallel to its fibers. A trochanteric osteotomy is performed. The short external rotators' insertion on the femur is erased.

The rest of the posterior exposure is obtained by retracting the muscles from the greater sciatic notch. The anterior incision is developed as in the ilioinguinal approach by dividing the sartorius and the rectus femoris and opening the external oblique aponeurosis and dissecting through the three windows available beneath the inguinal ligament.

During closure, the muscles—especially the abductors, the tensor fasciae latae, the rectus femoris, and the sartorius—are reattached. The trochanteric osteotomy is fixed, and the three fascial limbs of the triradiate incision are closed, beginning with a single apical suture.


Reduction and Fixation


Reducing acetabular fractures is one of the most challenging tasks the orthopedic surgeon faces. [62, 63]  Often, because of the high velocity of the injury, comminution is extensive, and piecing all the fracture fragments together is similar to solving a jigsaw puzzle. It requires patience and skill. One tends to improve with experience, but the learning curve is fairly steep.

Analysis of the fracture pattern, displacement of the fragments, and meticulous preoperative planning go a long way in easing the difficulties faced in the surgical treatment of acetabular fracture. A hip with a malreduced acetabular fracture is doomed to a posttraumatic arthrosis. It is therefore essential to obtain anatomic reduction in order to ensure longevity of the hip. There has been a good correlation between the accuracy of the reduction and good long-term clinical outcomes.

Reduction in acetabular fractures usually proceeds from the periphery to the center—that is, in a centripetal fashion. The articular surface is reconstructed to the mold of the peripherally reconstructed innominate bone. Thus, it is easy to understand the need for perfect alignment of the peripheral fracture lines; a small peripheral step may lead to significant articular incongruity and may necessitate revision of fixation.

It is also important to appreciate that the malalignment of any one column precludes anatomic fixation of the other column in injuries involving both the columns. For this reason, the authors recommend simultaneous anterior and posterior approaches as opposed to staged procedures for fractures that require an anterior and a posterior approach.

In reduction and fixation of acetabular fractures, the need for a thorough knowledge of the local anatomy, both normal and pathologic, cannot be overemphasized. This knowledge is helpful not only for avoiding injury to surrounding vital structures (eg, the femoral neurovascular bundle) and intra-articular hardware but also for placing screws in the areas that provide the best purchase and thereby ensuring ensure stable fixation of the fracture.

Provisional fixation usually is established by means of Kirschner wires (K-wires) and, sometimes, cerclage wires. Definitive fixation is established with screws and plates.

The primary fixation usually is by means of an interfragmentary screw. This is usually a 3.5-mm cortical screw used as a lag screw or a 4-mm cancellous screw. Screws measuring 6.5 mm are used rarely but can provide excellent hold. The exact nature and placement requires careful preoperative planning and depends on the fracture pattern.

Because of the curvaceous pelvic anatomy, implants that are too rigid must be avoided because implants must be molded perfectly to avoid malreduction. The 3.5-mm reconstruction plate, either curved or straight, is ideal for this purpose. It is thin and easily contoured in both planes, so it can be applied perfectly to the pelvis. The curved plates are slightly thicker and have a sloping undercut screw hole, allowing more oblique placement of the screw through the plate. Preoperative virtual simulation and 3D printing appear to be promising as means of facilitating plate molding. [64]

The other types of plates that can be used in special situations include spring plates, spike (spring hook) plates, and cerclage wires. [4, 32]

In cases with comminution of the quadrilateral plates, especially near the dome or above the fovea, the hip tends to subluxate despite fixation of the anterior and posterior columns. In this situation, a plate placed buttressing the medial wall can control the medial migration. This is usually a reconstruction or a small fragment T-plate with a sharp right-angle bend going over the pelvic brim down to the quadrilateral surface. It is overcontoured to function almost like a spring and hold the comminuted medial wall.

A spike plate or spring hook plate is a one-third tubular plate cut through a hole at the end, creating two small spikes that help hold a small fragment of a comminuted posterior lip.

The use of cerclage wires through the greater sciatic notch or, sometimes, the lesser sciatic notch, around and over the anterior aspect of the pelvis at the level of the anterior inferior iliac spine, is a very effective technique for provisional fixation in certain fracture patterns.

This technique is useful in some difficult-to-hold posterior column fractures, transverse, T-shaped, and both-column fractures in which the posterior fracture line exits high in the sciatic notch, providing a beak for the cerclage wire to hold. The use of cerclage wires, however, does entail slightly more dissection of the outer table when the ilioinguinal approach or an extensile approach (not often used) is followed. These wires may be left as definitive fixation.

Technical tips

A femoral distractor (see the image below) can be used to facilitate visualization and identification of structures for reduction.

Use of femoral distractor during surgery. Use of femoral distractor during surgery.

A Schanz screw can be used on a T-handle in the ischial tuberosity to manipulate the posterior column. This technique is especially useful in transverse fractures.

Holes may be drilled into the outer cortex of the pelvic bone to obtain purchase for reduction holding clamps.

K-wires can be used to temporarily hold reduction. This technique is especially useful when there is no place to apply pointed reduction holding clamps.

Reduction and stabilization of common fracture patterns

Posterior-wall or lip fracture

For posterior-wall or lip fractures (see the images below), after exposure by a Kocher-Langenbeck approach, the fracture hematoma is washed out and the fracture site cleaned. The interior of the joint is inspected, and loose bodies, if any, are washed out. Anatomic reduction and temporary stabilization with K-wires is carried out. The fracture is stabilized with 3.5-mm lag screws (or 4-mm cancellous screws) with washers, and a neutralization plate is applied.

Fixation of posterior wall fracture: Bone model sh Fixation of posterior wall fracture: Bone model showing the direction of screws and application of neutralization/buttress plate.
Posterior wall fracture: Postoperative anteroposte Posterior wall fracture: Postoperative anteroposterior (AP) view.
Posterior lip fracture: Postoperative iliac view. Posterior lip fracture: Postoperative iliac view.
Posterior wall fracture: Postoperative obturator v Posterior wall fracture: Postoperative obturator view.

In about 25% cases, the articular cartilage is impacted. This must be derotated and elevated and the metaphyseal defect filled with cancellous bone graft (usually from the greater trochanter) before the wall fragment is addressed. A subchondral screw usually is used to support the reconstructed articular surface.

In a highly comminuted posterior-wall fracture, it may not be possible to lag each individual fragment with a lag screw. In this situation, the use of spring hook plates (two-, three-, or four-holed one-third tubular plates with the ends cut off and the prongs bent to create hooks) is recommended. These plates are affixed in a loaded fashion underneath the buttress plate more medially but with the spring-loaded lateral hooks providing a buttressing effect to the comminuted posterior wall.

Posterior-column fractures

Posterior-column fractures generally result in medial displacement and internal rotation of the distal fragment (as seen from the back). Therefore, after cleaning the fracture site, the reduction of the displaced posterior column is facilitated by correcting the rotation by using a Schanz screw in the ischium and a small bone hook or pelvic reduction clamps for correcting the medial displacement. Adequacy of the reduction is confirmed by digital palpation of the quadrilateral surface and the smooth contours of the greater and lesser sciatic notches.

Once reduction is obtained, the column is stabilized by using an accurately contoured 3.5-mm (preferably flexible) reconstruction plate from the sciatic buttress down to the ischium. The distal portion of the plate should go low enough on the ischium to permit the most distal screw to be placed into the ischiopubic ramus. Screw placement in the central area of the posterior column is avoided to prevent intra-articular placement. Usually, two screws distally and two or three screws proximally are sufficient for adequate fixation.

Transverse fractures

A Kocher-Langenbeck approach can be used for fractures with a major posterior displacement or associated with posterior-wall fractures (see the image below). In these fractures, it is necessary to reduce not only the posterior-column but also the anterior-column displacement and malrotation. Generally, it is advisable to reduce the column first, check the articular surface continuity, and rule out articular penetration by hardware before fixing the wall fracture.

Transverse fracture. Transverse fracture.

The reduction is carried out in a fashion similar to that in a posterior-column fracture.

The adequacy of the anterior reduction is confirmed by digital palpation of the quadrilateral plate to the iliopectineal line. If the anterior column is still displaced, it is corrected with a pusher or a pelvic reduction clamp in the greater sciatic notch. A 3.5-mm reconstruction plate is then placed on the medial border of the posterior column, from the sciatic buttress to the ischium, and fixed with 3.5-mm screws. It is vital to overcontour the posterior plate slightly in order to prevent the anterior column from opening up on application of the posterior plate.

A posterior-to-anterior lag screw is then inserted across the obliquity of the transverse fracture line into the anterior column. The starting point of this screw is approximately three fingerbreadths above the acetabulum and requires a significant retraction of the abductor musculature.

This screw starts proximal to the thin part of the quadrilateral plate and runs parallel to the plate, taking purchase in the anterior column. Its position in the anterior column is checked on the obturator oblique view and its extra-articular placement confirmed on the iliac oblique view intraoperatively. It is important to avoid excessive anterior penetration with the drill bit so as to prevent damage to the femoral vessels, which are stuck down there by the iliopectineal fascia.

Mehin et al, in a study of five cadaveric acetabula with transverse acetabular fractures, found that the locking plate construct was as strong as plate plus interfragmentary lag screw for repair of transverse acetabular fractures. The authors feel that locking plates may provide an advantage in that fractures may be displaced during lag-screw tightening. [65]

T-shaped fractures

Reduction of T-shaped fractures (see the image below) with a single nonextensile approach is somewhat more difficult than it is for transverse fractures. When one uses the posterior approach, the reduction of the posterior column is carried out as outlined for posterior-column fractures (see above), ensuring that none of the screws cross into the anterior column.

T-shaped fracture (note the use of the anterior-to T-shaped fracture (note the use of the anterior-to-posterior lag screw to hold the posterior column).

Indirect reduction of the anterior column is then attempted by using a bone hook to pull the displaced anterior column into the acute angle created by the intact anterior column and the reconstructed posterior column. The bone hook or a pusher on the quadrilateral plate controls the rotation of the anterior column.

Reduction is confirmed by palpation of the quadrilateral plate, and the anterior column is stabilized to the reconstructed posterior column with posterior-to-anterior lag screws. A finger is placed on the quadrilateral surface, and the hip is taken through a range of movement to rule out intra-articular hardware penetration.

With the anterior approach, the anterior column is reduced first, and indirect reduction of the posterior column is attempted through the quadrilateral plate by using a small bone hook or a cerclage wire, after establishing lateral traction using a Schanz screw in the femoral head. Fixation is carried out using cerclage wires or an anterior-to-posterior lag screw.

Anterior-column or -wall fractures

With the ilioinguinal approach, the fracture site is cleaned and the reduction is carried out in a centripetal fashion. The iliac crest fracture is reduced by using a pointed reduction holding forceps or a specially designed pelvic reduction clamp. The gliding hole for lag-screw fixation can be created before reduction to ensure optimal screw placement in the thin iliac crest.

The crest can be stabilized by using a lag screw or 3.5-mm reconstruction plates. The column is then stabilized to the crest temporarily with a K-wire, later to be replaced by a 3.5-mm lag screw into the sciatic buttress through the lateral window of the ilioinguinal approach. The wall fracture is then addressed through the middle window and reduced. Finally, the superior pubic rami and displaced pubic body fractures are reduced through the medial window.

A 3.5-mm reconstruction plate is molded along the iliac fossa, across the iliopectineal eminence to the pubic tubercle and the body of the pubis. The symphysis needs to be crossed only if an associated symphyseal disruption is present or if fractures are present in the pubic body. It is essential that the plate be perfectly contoured; otherwise, tightening down the plate may result in malreduction of the column fracture.

Cortical screws 3.5 mm in length are then placed in the pubis and the pubic tubercle medially and in the area of the sciatic buttress and the quadrilateral plate proximal to the acetabulum to provide stable fixation of the anterior column to the posterior column (anterior-to-posterior lag screws). These screws start at the pelvic brim superior to the acetabulum and are directed from proximal to distal into the posterior column paralleling the quadrilateral surface, aiming for the ischial spine.

Care must be taken to avoid intra-articular placement of these screws; therefore, it is important to appreciate the location of the acetabulum relative to the fixed pelvic landmarks; that is, inferior to the anterior inferior iliac spine and under the iliopubic eminence.

Both-column fractures

The ilioinguinal approach is the best approach for both-column fractures (see the image below). Anterior-column reduction is performed from the iliac crest to the symphysis. This provides an anatomic template for the subsequent reduction of the posterior column. Usually, the anterior column piece of the both-column fracture is externally rotated and shortened. A Schanz screw in the femoral head is used to apply traction, with the hip flexed to correct the shortening and external rotation. The anterior column is thus reduced to the intact iliac wing and stabilized.

Both-column fracture. Both-column fracture.

The posterior column, which usually is medially rotated and displaced, is then reduced to the anterior column by using the Schanz screw in the femoral head for anterior and lateral traction. Pelvic reduction clamps—with one tine on the outer surface of the ilium and the other tine through the lateral or middle window—on the quadrilateral plate or the posterior column helps achieve reduction. Reduction may also be achieved by means of a small bone hook or a cerclage wire. The posterior column is stabilized with anterior-to-posterior lag screws.

The reduction is checked radiographically, and the hip is taken through a range of movement to look for intra-articular placement of hardware.

Percutaneous fixation

Percutaneous fixation is a relatively recent addition to the armamentarium of the acetabular surgeon. [66, 67, 68, 69, 70, 71]  This technique is recommended for use by experienced acetabular surgeons in certain unstable minimally displaced fracture types in elderly persons or, particularly, in those at high surgical risk due to comorbid factors.

Fixation is carried out using 4.5-mm cannulated screws under fluoroscopic control. The technique usually involves the use of two screws in the anterior inferior iliac spine, directed posteriorly, perpendicular to the fracture surface, toward the greater sciatic notch or just superior to it. On the obturator view, the insertion site of each screw is centered along the midaxis of the anterior inferior spine; in the iliac view, the screw is directed posteriorly across the fracture site. This permits fixation of high anterior or posterior column fractures.

Percutaneous fixation of the posterior column, though rarely done, has been reported, using insertion of the screw into the ischial tuberosity.

These techniques are useful only in experienced hands; the complexities of the local anatomy and the small target zones for proper screw insertion preclude their widespread use.

The results from one study suggest that closed reduction and anterior-to-posterior supra-acetabular percutaneous screw fixation, followed by full weightbearing immediately postoperatively, may be a safe and reasonable alternative for anterior-column acetabulum fractures, with earlier return to work-related or recreational activities. [72]

Mauffrey et al described a case involving flexible 3D laparoscopic-assisted reduction and percutaneous fixation of an acetabular fracture in a young obese patient. [73] They did not recommend routine use of this approach but suggested it as a possible alternative for a small patient subset.

Quadrilateral surface comminution

An anterior-column fracture with comminution of the quadrilateral surface and central migration of the femoral head is one of the most difficult acetabular fractures to stabilize, in that there is always a tendency for late central migration of the head because of the lack of support there. Reconstructing the quadrilateral surface is extremely difficult.

Different techniques have been described to this end. One is the use of a contoured reconstruction or T-plate (spring plate), bent at right angles to buttress the quadrilateral surface, as described by Tile and by Matta et al (see the image below). [32, 38]  Tile also described the use of an inner table iliac crest autograft, fixed with heavy wires or braided cables to reconstitute the quadrilateral surface. [32]

Quadrilateral surface comminution: Use of a T-plat Quadrilateral surface comminution: Use of a T-plate.

Total hip replacement in acetabular fractures

For total hip replacement in acetabular fractures, Weber et al reported a 10-year follow-up study with a survival rate of 78%, with noncemented cups doing better than cemented ones. [74]  (See the image below.)

Total hip replacement in posttraumatic arthritis a Total hip replacement in posttraumatic arthritis after an acetabular fracture.

Bellabarba et al compared the results of arthroplasty in patients who had had prior operative treatment of their acetabular fracture with those in patients who had had prior closed treatment of their acetabular fracture. [75]  The average duration of follow-up was 63 months. Operating time, blood loss, and perioperative transfusion requirements were significantly greater in the patients with posttraumatic arthritis than in the patients with nontraumatic arthritis.

Of the patients with posttraumatic arthritis, those who had had ORIF of their acetabular fracture had a significantly longer index procedure, greater blood loss, and a higher transfusion requirement than those in whom the fracture had been treated by closed methods. [75]  Two of the 15 patients with a previous ORIF required bone grafting of acetabular defects, compared with seven of the 15 patients treated by closed means.

The Kaplan-Meier 10-year survival rate, with revision or radiographic loosening as the end point, was 97%; results were similar to those of the patients who underwent primary THA for nontraumatic arthritis. [75]  The only failure occurred in a patient with an unsupported acetabular discontinuity. They concluded that plate fixation is required in conjunction with acetabular reconstruction in such patients.

Mears and Velyvis assessed the role of acute total hip replacement in a selected group of patients with a displaced acetabular fracture and complicating features that greatly diminished the likelihood of a favorable outcome after open reduction and internal fixation. [23]

In this study, 57 patients underwent an acute THA for a displaced acetabular fracture. [23]  Mean follow-up was 8.1 years, and mean time from injury to arthroplasty was 6 days (range, 1-20 days). Mean patient age at arthroplasty was 69 years. Indications for the acute arthroplasty included intra-articular comminution and full-thickness abrasive loss of the articular cartilage, impaction of the femoral head, and impaction of the acetabulum that involved more than 40% of the joint surface and included the weightbearing region.

At the latest follow-up, mean Harris hip score was 89 points (range, 69-100). [23]  Of the 57 patients, 45 (79%) had an excellent or good outcome, six had heterotopic bone formation, and one had symptomatic grade IV ossification. In the initial 6 postoperative weeks, acetabular cups subsided an average of 3 mm medially and 2 mm vertically; all then stabilized, and none were loose at the latest follow-up. Six patients had excessive cup medialization, but none had late loosening or osteolysis. No cup or stem had late clinical or radiographic evidence of loosening.

The authors prefer a posterior approach with a generous incision. Identification and mobilization of the sciatic nerve is an important step. In cases with central dislocation, the head may be incarcerated and may have to be removed piecemeal; however, whenever possible, the authors prefer to excise the head en bloc and use it as bone graft to fill all of the defects. Only the implants that interfere with reaming need to be removed at surgery. Displaced large fragments must be realigned and stabilized, if possible, by using standard fracture fixation techniques.

The authors prefer uncemented cups (only if at least 75% contact exists in between the host bone and the cup) to cemented cups. It is essential to have a large inventory of implants available because larger cups may be necessary if the acetabulum is reamed to get a better fit for the cup. Larger deficiencies may require the use of acetabular reinforcement rings, cages, or even allograft.

Acetabular deficiency and distorted local anatomy may result in difficulty in proper orientation of the cup; this must be guarded against. Selection of a proper neck length and version of the prosthesis is essential to maintain optimal soft-tissue tension around the hip and reduce the chances of dislocation.

Dislocations reportedly occur more frequently after total hip replacement for acetabular fractures than after routine total hip replacements, possibly as a result of malorientation of the components or improper soft-tissue balance around the hip. The infection rate is increased, possibly because of prolonged surgery, increased blood loss, and preexistent infection. Nerve damage occurs because of difficulty in identification of the nerves tied down in scarred fibrous tissue. Loosening of the prosthesis, myositis ossificans, and other complications are possible.

Boraiah et al found that in 18 patients (mean age, 71 years) who underwent combined open ORIF and THA for acetabular fractures (one transverse, one anterior-column posterior hemitransverse, one both-column, and 15 posterior-wall), only one patient required revision surgery, because of failure of the acetabular component. The authors concluded that in appropriately selected patients, ORIF/THA can be an acceptable treatment approach. [76]


Postoperative Care

The goals of postoperative management are to maximize the functional status of the patient, facilitate early return to function, and detect complications quickly and manage them appropriately. [8, 72]

General measures

Acetabular surgery can be long and complicated and may involve significant bleeding. It is, therefore, important to adequately replace fluid volume and monitor the electrolyte balance. Blood should be given to maintain the hemoglobin level above 8-9 g/dL.

Pain relief is one of the most important aspects of the postoperative management of patients who have undergone acetabular surgery, given that the surgical procedure can involve a great deal of dissection. The best way to provide pain relief is by means of continuous epidural infusion of opiates. This decreases the need for systemic administration of analgesics significantly.

The authors recommend intravenous antibiotics for 72 hours postoperatively in uncomplicated cases. These should be broad-spectrum and provide gram-positive and gram-negative coverage.

The authors routinely recommend the use of indomethacin, 25 mg three times daily for 6 weeks, for the prevention of heterotopic ossification. The authors have no experience with the use of radiation for this purpose.

The authors do not use anticoagulation, except in individuals at high risk, because they have rarely encountered significant DVT in the Indian population. The authors do, however, encourage the use of elastic stockings, sequential compression devices (SCDs), and active ankle mobilization. In patients at high risk, standard DVT prophylaxis must be used. The risks of development of a wound hematoma and protection against pulmonary embolism (PE) must be weighed carefully in selecting patients for anticoagulant prophylaxis.

Nutrition is an often-neglected aspect of rehabilitation, especially in patients with multiple injuries. These patients have sustained severe trauma and tend to go into severe negative nitrogen balance, unless nutrition is specifically assessed. They often may have associated abdominal injuries that preclude enteric feeding. These patients must be put on parenteral hyperalimentation to ensure the best nutritional status to heal.

Patients often are unable to void spontaneously and require a urinary catheter. Care must be taken to prevent the catheter from becoming a source of sepsis, and, therefore, the catheter should be removed as soon as possible.

Bowel care is important. Patients may also be constipated and may require a high fluid intake, high-fiber diet, and stool softeners. An enema may be justified if these measures are unsuccessful.

Local measures

Patients with simple fractures, such as a posterior-lip fracture, need not be put on traction but should be confined to bed on the first postoperative day. Patients with more complex injuries may have to be put on gentle (2- to 3-kg) traction until pain subsides, usually in about 10-14 days.

A longer period of immobilization may be indicated if the fixation is not deemed stable at the time of surgery. A longer period of immobilization may also be indicated in extensile approaches; in these patients, the rehabilitation, especially abductor strengthening, may also have to proceed at a slower pace.

The posterior drains usually are removed at 48 hours. The retropubic drain should stay in place longer, for 72-96 hours. The drains may be removed earlier if they drain less than 10 mL/day.

Scrotal elevation may be required for some patients in whom there has been excessive handling of the spermatic cord, which may lead to significant scrotal edema.

Exercises may include the following:

  • The patient must be taught static quadriceps exercises preoperatively and must start them again postoperatively as soon as he or she is comfortable
  • The patient must also begin ankle mobilization and, especially, dorsiflexion exercises on postoperative day 1; this not only prevents the development of a postural foot drop but also helps in circulation of blood in the lower limb and guards against development of DVT
  • The patient should also begin with upper limb–strengthening exercises to make crutch walking easier during rehabilitation
  • Dynamic quadriceps exercises may be started as soon as the patient can sit up with his or her legs dangling by the side of the bed, usually in 5-7 days

Sutures are usually removed after 10-12 days; ilioinguinal wounds may sometimes take longer to heal.



Early complications


Death may result from associated injuries or from thromboembolic phenomena, such as massive pulmonary embolism. The overall reported mortality is in the range of 0-2.5%. Mortality may be increased in patients older than 60 years, as seen in Letournel's series (5.7%).


Factors predisposing to infection include the following:

  • Presence of wounds/friction abrasions near the operative site or at a distance
  • Extensive exposure with a lot of soft-tissue stripping and devascularization
  • Prolonged surgery
  • Hematoma formation (especially in the retropubic space)
  • Operating room atmosphere

Prophylactic measures include the following:

  • Early and aggressive treatment of wounds/infective foci
  • Prophylactic preoperative antibiotics the day before surgery and continued postoperatively, especially with the ilioinguinal approach [3, 4]
  • Use of multiple suction drains to prevent hematoma formation, along with meticulous attention to hemostasis intraoperatively
  • Early recognition and evacuation of hematomas

Management consists of the following:

  • Early recognition
  • Vigorous antibiotic therapy
  • Thorough surgical debridement and removal of all necrotic debris
  • Removal of all loose metallic implants

If infection communicates with the joint, cleaning and draining the joint are essential. Overall reported mortality is in the range of 0-2.5%. Mortality may be increased in patients older than 60 years, as seen in Letournel's series (5.7%). If the hip shows evidence of infective arthritis, excision arthroplasty may be required.

Nerve damage

Nerves involved can include the following [77, 78, 79] :

  • Sciatic nerve
  • Lateral cutaneous nerve of the thigh
  • Femoral nerve
  • Superior gluteal nerve
  • Pudendal nerve

The nerve most commonly injured is the sciatic nerve, either the peroneal component alone or both the posterior tibial and the peroneal components. Causes include direct trauma by a fractured fragment and direct trauma at the time of surgery. Sciatic nerve damage is also associated with traction.

Prevention includes proper preoperative evaluation of sciatic nerve function, extreme vigilance about placement and use of retractors, and keeping the knee flexed and the hip extended while operating by the posterior approach. Intraoperative somatosensory evoked potential (SSEP) and spontaneous electromyographic (EMG) monitoring can also be used. (Routine use of these modalities has been questioned.) Proper positioning of the drill and screws near the greater sciatic notch is important, as is prevention of external rotation of the limb postoperatively.

If a nerve palsy develops, it is best treated with an ankle-foot orthosis. Recovery of the sciatic nerve is still possible for up to 3 years after injury. Iatrogenic nerve palsies are often a form of axonotmesis. EMG can be helpful in determining reinnervation of affected muscle groups. Tendon transfer procedures to correct foot drop should not be performed during the initial 3 years. About 60-75% of patients recover enough to have satisfactory function. [4]

Injury to the lateral cutaneous nerve of the thigh usually occurs as an iatrogenic injury following the ilioinguinal or extensile approaches. Most resolve spontaneously if the nerve is not avulsed.

Injury to the femoral nerve is extremely rare. It is seen only if excessive lateral traction is given to the iliopsoas compartment during manipulation of the fracture in an ilioinguinal approach.

The superior gluteal nerve is at risk in fractures that exit high in the greater sciatic notch and during the posterior approach, especially if blind coagulation of bleeding is attempted in this area.

The pudendal nerve may be injured because of pressure from the perineal post of the traction table. About 90% of patients with these injuries recover spontaneously.

Vascular injury

Vessels that may be involved include the following:

  • Superior gluteal artery
  • Femoral artery
  • Femoral/external iliac vein

The superior gluteal artery is the vessel most commonly involved. The injury may be due to the injury itself, especially in fractures exiting near the roof of the greater sciatic notch. It may also result from iatrogenic damage during dissection in the region of the roof of the greater sciatic notch.

The femoral artery may be damaged by a misplaced posterior-to-anterior lag screw as reported by Johnson et al. [80] Probe et al also reported a case of femoral arterial thrombosis after excessive manipulation of the artery during an ilioinguinal approach. [81] This necessitated immediate exploration and thrombectomy.

Helfet et al reported the perforation of the femoral vein by a sharp fracture fragment from the anterior column during attempts at fracture reduction. [78] The patient recovered fully following immediate vascular repair.


Thromboembolism is one of the most significant complications of acetabular fractures. The prevalence of PE in the acute setting is 1-5%; significant incidence is 4%, according to Judet and Letournel. [3, 4] The reported risk of PE is 4-7%.

The emboli usually originate from the proximal large veins of the lower limb. A large discrepancy exists between the prevalence of clinically evident DVT (2.3-5%) and DVT detected on vascular testing (up to 60%). However, routinely used methods such as Doppler ultrasonography (US) are not good tools for detecting proximal DVT. Therefore, some form of anticoagulant prophylaxis (most often, low-molecular-weight heparin [LMWH] and mechanical compression devices) is often recommended, especially in high-risk patients.

Inferior vena cava (IVC) filters are recommended in patients with positive findings on duplex US and in high-risk groups (ie, those with contraindications for chemical thromboprophylaxis, a history of malignancy, obesity, or a previous history of DVT).


Malreduction is an important and, in most cases, preventable complication that compromises the eventual result. Every possible attempt must be made to achieve an anatomic reduction after surgery.

Fixation failure

Risk factors include marked comminution, severe osteoporosis, use of lag screws or plates alone, and early/unguarded ambulation. This can lead to disastrous consequences.

Intra-articular hardware

Judet and Letournel reported an incidence of 0.9% of complications associated with hardware. [3, 4] Preventive measures include a thorough knowledge of the local anatomy (eg, avoid placing screws underneath the iliopsoas during an ilioinguinal approach). [82] To prevent this complication, intraoperative fluoroscopy and CT can be used to detect intra-articular hardware (see the image below).

Intra-articular screw as seen on the axial cut of Intra-articular screw as seen on the axial cut of the CT scan.

Kendorff et al concluded that 3D fluoroscopic imaging provides more detailed and accurate information about implant placement and articular reduction than standard fluoroscopy and that results are comparable to those achieved with CT. [83] Evaluating the hip range of movement for restriction and crepitus following insertion of screws near the joint is also a preventive measure.

Late complications

Avascular necrosis

Judet and Letournel reported an incidence of 6.6% for avascular necrosis (AVN). [3, 4] The incidence of AVN of the femoral head after a central fracture dislocation is only 1.6%, whereas that following an anterior dislocation is 1.5% and that following a posterior dislocation is 7.5%. Salient points include the following:

  • Femoral head necrosis is practically impossible to prevent
  • The trauma of the accident always determines the future of the femoral head in preserving or destroying all or part of its vessels
  • Whatever the quality of reduction, AVN may occur
  • Intraoperative avoidance of stripping of periosteum helps decrease the incidence of anterior column and posterior wall osteonecrosis
  • Incidence of AVN is lowest if reduction is performed within the first 24 hours; however, necrosis is far from inevitable, even if reduction takes place after 24 hours
  • Surgery does not augment femoral head necrosis; however, a relation may exist with acetabular osteonecrosis
  • Time of presentation is mostly from 3-18 months
  • The clinical course and radiologic course are extremely variable, and any correlation may exist between the two
  • Medical treatment does not influence the course, and once diagnosis is confirmed, management is along conventional lines

A prospective study by Maini et al suggested that a complete tear of the obturator externus, the piriformis, or both is a strong predictor of future development of AVN of the femoral head in patients with acetabulum fractures. [84]

Posttraumatic osteoarthrosis

The incidence of osteoarthrosis in the literature is 3-48%. The common causes of osteoarthrosis include malunion (articular incongruity and AVN of the femoral head).

Heterotopic new bone formation

The incidence of heterotopic new bone formation (see the image below) with various approaches is as follows:

  • Kocher-Langenbeck approach - 19% (10.5% Brooker grade III or IV)
  • Ilioinguinal approach - 9% (2% Brooker grade III or IV)
  • Double approaches - 50-60% (35% Brooker grade III or IV)
T-shaped fracture (note the use of the anterior-to T-shaped fracture (note the use of the anterior-to-posterior lag screw to hold the posterior column).

Risk factors include the following [85] :

  • Male sex
  • Increased body mass
  • Greater age
  • Intensive care unit (ICU) admission and length of stay
  • Non-ICU hospitalization for longer than 10 days
  • Mechanical ventilation required for 2 days or longer
  • Abdominal or chest injuries
  • Associated head injury
  • T-shaped fractures
  • Pelvic ring injuries
  • Hip dislocation
  • Extensile approaches, especially those involving an osteotomy of the greater trochanter
  • Stripping of the external iliac fossa

The Brooker classification is a grading of severity of heterotopic ossification around the hip. The various grades are as follows:

  • Brooker grade I - Isolated islands of bone
  • Brooker grade II - Mild bony projections separated by more than 1 cm
  • Brooker grade III - Large bony projections from both acetabular and femoral sides, separated by less than 1 cm
  • Brooker grade IV - Severe (bridging from femur to acetabulum)

Salient points include the following:

  • The amount of heterotopic ossification appears to be directly related to the trauma to the hip abductor musculature, whether at the time of the injury or subsequently at surgery
  • Radiography reveals a significant amount of ectopic bone in many patients, but muscle function and range of motion are satisfactory; in other patients, rotation and abduction are limited; however, if patients can fully extend the hip to the neutral position and have satisfactory flexion of at least 90°, they may be happy with the result and have no desire for further surgery to excise the bone
  • Heterotopic ossification commonly is assessed on the AP pelvis view and can be misleading; when excision is being considered, 45º oblique views of the pelvis or CT can be used to clarify the extent and location of heterotopic ossification about the hip
  • Whenever possible, surgery for excision of ectopic bone should be delayed for 15-18 months after injury; if it is performed at this time, no problem with recurrence usually exists, and motion can be expected to return to more than 80% of normal (if no arthritis is present); ectopic bone spontaneously regresses over several years in some patients, and thus, if the indications for bone excision are equivocal, it may be best to wait, with the hope of some spontaneous regression of the ectopic bone and improvement of motion

Prophylaxis may include the following measures [82, 86, 87] :

  • Indomethacin, 25 mg three times daily for 6 weeks starting on postoperative day 1, reduces the overall incidence of heterotopic ossification and, especially, reduces the incidence of Brooker grade III and IV ossification
  • Radiation therapy, 7 Gy in a single sitting, has also been shown to be effective in decreasing the incidence and severity of heterotopic ossification
  • A combination of radiation and indomethacin may also be useful


Nonunion is a rare complication of acetabular fractures.


Chondrolysis is defined as early (6-12 months) postoperative progressive joint space narrowing without alteration of the femoral head or acetabular bone, in association with painful hip motion. [2] The prevalence is 1%, according to Judet and Letournel. [3, 4, 5] The authors have had no patients who developed this complication. It is important to rule out intra-articular hardware and infection before reaching this diagnosis. Treatment is mainly supportive, and the prognosis is poor.

Certain negative outcomes related to the injury are inevitable. These include death, posttraumatic nerve injury, thromboembolic phenomena, and AVN. However, a number of preventable complications may result secondary to the surgical intervention: infection, iatrogenic nerve injury, fixation failure, and malreduction. Avoidance of such complications greatly improves clinical results after these devastating injuries.


Long-Term Monitoring


Postoperative radiographs are usually obtained at the completion of the operation for preliminary confirmation of the reduction. A minimum of an AP pelvis radiograph is obtained in the operating room; the iliac oblique and obturator oblique views can be obtained in the operating room or later. After gait training and before discharge, another AP pelvic radiograph generally is obtained to confirm that loss of reduction has not occurred during ambulation. A single AP pelvis radiograph is obtained at each follow-up examination.

Mobilization protocol

On postoperative day 1, static quadriceps exercises are started.

On day 2 or 3, continuous passive motion (CPM) is started, with range limited to about 60° for the first 3 days to avoid tension on the wound.

On days 3-7, dynamic quadriceps exercises are performed. Once pain has subsided, the patient may begin gait training on a walker or axillary crutches. Toe-touch weightbearing is permitted. The patient is encouraged to ambulate with a step-through gait and a heel-to-toe motion. Active flexion, extension, and abduction exercises while standing are encouraged.

Physical therapy is directed toward regaining muscle strength at the hip, especially in the abductors; this has been shown to correlate well with the final functional outcome. Active abduction and passive adduction are avoided for 4 weeks in patients treated with an extended iliofemoral approach.

For 8-12 weeks postoperatively, weightbearing is limited. Full weightbearing ambulation is permitted only after the fracture unites, usually by about 12 weeks, with gradual discarding of walking aids as tolerated.

After about 1 year, if no complications are present, return to sporting activity may be advised.

For patient education resources, see Total Hip Replacement.