The effect of implant overlap on the mechanical properties of the femur

Timothy Harris, John T Ruth, John Szivek, Brett Haywood
Journal of Trauma 2003, 54 (5): 930-5

BACKGROUND: The most biomechanically stable relationship between the side plate of a compression hip screw (CHS) and retrograde intramedullary (IM) femoral nail has not been described in the literature. This becomes a clinical issue when treating supracondylar femur fractures with a retrograde nail in patients with a history of compression hip screw fixation of intertrochanteric fractures. The proximal end of the nail and the interlocking screws may act as a stress riser in the femoral diaphysis. The purpose of this study is to determine the biomechanical consequences of the amount of implant overlap between a CHS plate and retrograde IM femoral nail.

METHODS: Nine paired fresh-frozen cadaver femora from elderly donors were cleaned of soft tissue and fixed with uniaxial strain gauges. Each femur was loaded three times in a fall-loading configuration to 50 kg at a rate of 1 Hz. The study consisted of two phases. In phase 1, six pair were randomly divided into a control and test femur from each pair. Three states were compared on each test femur: uninstrumented, instrumented with CHS, and instrumented with CHS and retrograde nail. The control femur consisted of the matched femur tested in two states: uninstrumented and instrumented with a CHS. The femora were then loaded to failure. The tests were performed with the retrograde nail and CHS gapped 3 cm, kissing, and overlapping by two screw holes (two pair for each state). In phase 2, each of the remaining three pair were instrumented with a CHS and retrograde nail overlapping in one femur and gapped in the matched femur and tested in the same manner. Data analysis was performed using Pearson's correlation coefficients between groups. Paired samples t tests were used to compare differences within test states and independent samples t tests were used to compare differences between femora. Mean strain at 50-kg load, load-versus-strain patterns, failure patterns, and load and strain at failure were recorded. RESULTS; Correlation coefficients were greater than 0.98 within and between pairs (p < 0.001). There were statistically significant differences (p < 0.05) in strain patterns between the uninstrumented, CHS, and CHS/IM test states. The addition of a side plate significantly (p < 0.05) increased lateral compressive strains in the femoral diaphysis. Mean strain at 50-kg load was significantly (p < 0.05) altered by the addition of the retrograde nail in all three implant orientations. Gapped implants failed at lower loads and strains than femurs with kissing and overlapping implants. Gapped constructs failed at lower loads than control states. Overlapped constructs tolerated the highest loads and strains before failure.

CONCLUSION: Strain patterns are altered by the degree of implant overlap in the proximal femoral diaphysis. Femora with uninstrumented intervals between retrograde nails and side plates fail at lower loads than femora without retrograde nails and those with kissing or overlapping implants. Kissing or overlapping instrumentation increases load to failure and creates a more biomechanically stable construct than gapped implants. The findings of this study suggest an overlapping implant orientation in the femur increases failure load at the implant interface.

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