Radiographic evaluation of acute distal radius fracture stability: A comparative cadaveric study between a thermo-formable bracing system and traditional fiberglass casting

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Abstract

Background

Distal radius fractures are common musculoskeletal injuries and many can be treated non-operatively with cast immobilization. A thermo-formable brace has been developed for management of such fractures, but no data exist regarding its comparative stabilizing efficacy to fiberglass casting.

Methods

A worst-case distal radius fracture was created in 6 cadaveric forearms. A radiolucent loading fixture was created to apply cantilever bending/compression loads ranging from 4.5N to 66.7N across the simulated fracture in the: (1) non-stabilized, (2) braced; and (3) casted forearms, each forearm serving as its own control. Fracture fragment translations and rotations were measured radiographically using orthogonal radiographs and a 2D-3D, CT-based transformation methodology.

Findings

Under 4.5N of load in the non-stabilized condition, average sagittal plane rotation and 3D center of mass translation of the fracture fragment were 12.3° and 5.3 mm, respectively. At the 4.5N load step, fragment rotation with the brace (avg. 0.0°) and cast (0.1°) reduced sagittal plane rotation compared to the non-stabilized forearm (P < 0.001). There were no significant differences in measured sagittal plane fracture fragment rotations or 3D fragment translations between the brace or cast at any of the four load steps (4.5N, 22.2N, 44.5N, and 66.7N, P ≥ 0.138).

Interpretation

In this in vitro radiographic study utilizing 6 cadaveric forearms with simulated severe-case, unstable and comminuted distal radius fractures, the thermo-formable brace stabilized the fracture in a manner that was not radiographically or biomechanically different from traditional fiberglass casting. Study results support the use of the thermo-formable brace clinically.

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