Does the Watson-Jones or Modified Smith-Petersen Approach Provide Superior Exposure for Femoral Neck Fracture Fixation?

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Abstract

Background

A well-reduced femoral neck fracture is more likely to heal than a poorly reduced one, and increasing the quality of the surgical exposure makes it easier to achieve anatomic fracture reduction. Two open approaches are in common use for femoral neck fractures, the modified Smith-Petersen and Watson-Jones; however, to our knowledge, the quality of exposure of the femoral neck exposure provided by each approach has not been investigated.

Questions/purposes

(1) What is the respective area of exposed femoral neck afforded by the Watson-Jones and modified Smith-Petersen approaches? (2) Is there a difference in the ability to visualize and/or palpate important anatomic landmarks provided by the Watson-Jones and modified Smith-Petersen approaches?

Methods

Ten fresh-frozen human pelvi underwent both modified Smith-Petersen (utilizing the caudal extent of the standard Smith-Petersen interval distal to the anterosuperior iliac spine and parallel to the palpable interval between the tensor fascia lata and the sartorius) and Watson-Jones approaches. Dissections were performed by three fellowship-trained orthopaedic traumatologists with extensive experience in both approaches. Exposure (in cm2) was quantified with calibrated digital photographs and specialized software. Modified Smith-Petersen approaches were analyzed before and after rectus femoris tenotomy. The ability to visualize and palpate seven clinically relevant anatomic structures (the labrum, femoral head, subcapital femoral neck, basicervical femoral neck, greater trochanter, lesser trochanter, and medial femoral neck) was also recorded. The quantified area of the exposed proximal femur was utilized to compare which approach afforded the largest field of view of the femoral neck and articular surface for assessment of femoral neck fracture and associated femoral head injury. The ability to visualize and palpate surrounding structures was assessed so that we could better understand which approach afforded the ability to assess structures that are relevant to femoral neck fracture reduction and fixation.

Results

After controlling for age, body mass index, height, and sex, we found the modified Smith-Petersen approach provided a mean of 2.36 cm2 (95% confidence interval [CI], 0.45-4.28 cm2; p = 0.015) additional exposure without rectus femoris tenotomy (p = 0.015) and 3.33 cm2 (95% CI, 1.42-5.24 cm2; p = 0.001) additional exposure with a tenotomy compared with the Watson-Jones approach. The labrum, femoral head, subcapital femoral neck, basicervical femoral neck, and greater trochanter were reliably visible and palpable in both approaches. The lesser trochanter was palpable in all of the modified Smith-Petersen and none of the Watson-Jones approaches (p < 0.001). All modified Smith-Petersen approaches (10 of 10) provided visualization and palpation of the medial femoral neck, whereas visualization of the medial femoral neck was only possible in one of 10 Watson-Jones approaches (p < 0.001) and palpation was possible in eight of 10 Watson-Jones versus all 10 modified Smith-Petersen approaches (p = 0.470).

Conclusions

In the hands of surgeons experienced with both surgical approaches to the femoral neck, the modified Smith-Petersen approach, with or without rectus femoris tenotomy, provides superior exposure of the femoral neck and articular surface as well as visualization and palpation of clinically relevant proximal femoral anatomic landmarks compared with the Watson-Jones approach.

Clinical Relevance

Open reduction and internal fixation of a femoral neck fracture is typically performed in a young patient (< 60 years old) with the objective of obtaining anatomic reduction that would not be possible by closed manipulation, thus enhancing healing potential. In the hands of surgeons experienced in both approaches, the modified Smith-Petersen approach offers improved direct access for reduction and fixation. Higher quality reductions and fixation are expected to translate to improved healing potential and outcomes. Although our experimental results are promising, further clinical studies are needed to verify if this larger exposure area imparts increased quality of reduction, healing, and improved outcomes compared with other approaches. The learning curve for the exposure is unclear, but the approach has broad applications and is frequently used in other subspecialties such as for direct anterior THA and pediatric septic hip drainage. Surgeons treating femoral neck fractures with open reduction and fixation should familiarize themselves with the modified Smith-Petersen approach.

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