Post-traumatic avascular necrosis of the femoral head predicted by preoperative technetium-99m antimony-colloid scan. An experimental and clinical study.

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We used technetium-99m antimony colloid to visualize the bone marrow of the head of the femur within twenty-four hours after interruption of the blood supply by subcapital osteotomy and section of the ligamentum teres in thirteen rabbits and within twenty-four hours after a subcapital fracture in thirty patients. Of the rabbits, all showed loss of marrow radioactivity over the affected femoral head. Bone-imaging with technetium-99m methylene diphosphonate, in contrast, failed to demonstrate any abnormality in the avascular head of the femur for as long as forty-eight hours after osteotomy. This difference between the marrow scan and the bone scan was attributed to earlier loss of function in the marrow cells than in the osteocytes. The thirty patients who had a preoperative scan within twenty-four hours after sustaining a subcapital fracture were treated by internal fixation with a Richards screw and plate and were followed for as long as two years, or until the patient died or radiographs showed evidence of avascular necrosis. The preoperative technetium-99m antimony-colloid activity in the head of the fractured femur was normal in sixteen patients and absent in fourteen; two of the fourteen had no activity in either hip, which precluded assessment of the fractured hip in these patients. In fifteen of the sixteen hips, preservation of the uptake in the marrow of the head of the fractured femur preoperatively predicted normal healing. Late segmental collapse developed in the remaining hip. In eleven of the twelve patients who had loss of marrow activity in the femoral head preoperatively, avascular necrosis developed within two years. One patient was asymptomatic at two years, with no evidence of necrosis. The two patients who had no marrow activity in either hip both had avascular necrosis within one year after surgery.

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