RESEARCH SUPPORT, NON-U.S. GOV'T
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The effects of screw length on stability of simulated osteoporotic distal radius fractures fixed with volar locking plates.

PURPOSE: Volar plating for distal radius fractures has caused extensor tendon ruptures resulting from dorsal screw prominence. This study was designed to determine the biomechanical impact of placing unicortical distal locking screws and pegs in an extra-articular fracture model.

METHODS: We applied volar-locking distal radius plates to 30 osteoporotic distal radius models. We divided radiuses into 5 groups based on distal locking fixation: bicortical locked screws, 3 lengths of unicortical locked screws (abutting the dorsal cortex [full length], 75% length, and 50% length to dorsal cortex), and unicortical locked pegs. Distal radius osteotomy simulated a dorsally comminuted, extra-articular fracture. We determined each construct's stiffness under physiologic loads (axial compression, dorsal bending, and volar bending) before and after 1,000 cycles of axial conditioning and before axial loading to failure (2 mm of displacement) and subsequent catastrophic failure.

RESULTS: Cyclic conditioning did not alter the constructs' stiffness. Stiffness to volar bending and dorsal bending forces were similar between groups. Final stiffness under axial load was statistically equivalent for all groups: bicortical screws (230 N/mm), full-length unicortical screws (227 N/mm), 75% length unicortical screws (226 N/mm), 50% length unicortical screws (187 N/mm), and unicortical pegs (226 N/mm). Force at 2-mm displacement was significantly less for 50% length unicortical screws (311 N) compared with bicortical screws (460 N), full-length unicortical screws (464 N), 75% length unicortical screws (400 N), and unicortical pegs (356 N). Force to catastrophic fracture was statistically equivalent between groups, but mean values for pegs (749 N) and 50% length unicortical (702 N) screws were 16% to 21% less than means for bicortical (892 N), full-length unicortical (860 N), and 75% length (894 N) unicortical constructs.

CONCLUSIONS: Locked unicortical distal screws of at least 75% length produce construct stiffness similar to bicortical fixation. Unicortical distal fixation for extra-articular distal radius fractures should be entertained to avoid extensor tendon injury because this technique does not appear to compromise initial fixation.

CLINICAL RELEVANCE: Using unicortical fixation during volar distal radius plating may protect extensor tendons without compromising fixation.

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