Infection and Complications After Low-velocity Intra-articular Gunshot Injuries

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The purpose of this study is to characterize the demographics, interventions, infection rates, and other complications after intra-articular (IA) gunshot wounds.


Retrospective review.


Level I trauma center.


Fifty-three patients with 55 civilian low-velocity IA gunshot injuries with a minimum of 4 weeks follow-up were included in the study. Seven patients had associated vascular injuries.


Most patients (84.9%) received antibiotic prophylaxis, consisting most often of cefazolin (93.3%). Based on injury pattern and surgeon preference, joint injuries were either treated nonoperatively (43.6%), with surgical debridement only (20.0%), with surgical debridement plus fracture fixation and/or neurovascular repair (32.7%), or with percutaneous fracture fixation without debridement (3.6%).

Main Outcome Measures:

Incidence of deep infection.


Two joints (3.6%) developed deep infections. Both had associated vascular injuries. Patients with vascular injuries were at higher risk of infection compared with those without vascular injury (28.6% vs. 0.0%, P = 0.02). Two of 24 (8.3%) injuries that were originally managed nonoperatively required delayed surgical procedures, 1 for bullet removal and 1 for ulnar nerve allograft. No patient treated nonoperatively developed an infection.


The incidence of infection after IA gunshot injuries is low with the routine use of antibiotic prophylaxis. In the absence of IA pathology, IA gunshot injuries do not appear to necessitate surgical debridement to decrease the risk of infection. Patients with vascular injury deserve special attention, as they are at higher risk of infection.

Level of Evidence:

Prognostic Level III. See Instructions for authors for a complete description of levels of evidence.

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