Tourniquet use is not associated with limb loss following military lower extremity arterial trauma

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Abstract

BACKGROUND

The effect of battlefield extremity tourniquet (TK) use on limb salvage and long-term complications following vascular repair is unknown. This study explores the influence of TK use on limb outcomes in military lower extremity arterial injury.

METHODS

The study database includes cases of lower extremity vascular injury from 2004 to 2012 with data recorded until discharge from military service. We analyzed all limbs with at least one named arterial injury from the femoral to the tibial level. Tourniquet (TK) and no TK (NTK) groups were identified. Univariate analyses were performed with significance set at p ≤ 0.05.

RESULTS

A total of 455 cases were included, with 254 (56%) having a TK for a median of 60 minutes (8–270 minutes). Explosive injuries (53%) and gunshot wounds (26%) predominated. No difference between TK and NTK was present in presence of fracture, level of arterial injury, type of arterial repair, or concomitant venous injury. More nerve injuries were present in the TK group, and Abbreviated Injury Scale extremity and Mangled Extremity Severity Score tended toward greater injury severity. Amputation and mortality rates did not differ between groups, but the incidence of severe edema, wound infection, and foot drop was higher in the TK group. Vascular above-knee amputation, arterial repair complication, and severe edema were higher in the TK group also (p = 0.10). Tourniquet duration of 60 minutes or longer was not associated with increased amputations, but more rhabdomyolysis was present.

CONCLUSION

Field TK use is associated with wound infection and neurologic compromise but not limb loss. This may be due to a more severe injury profile among TK limbs. Increased TK times may predispose to systemic, but not limb, complications.

LEVEL OF EVIDENCE

Therapeutic/care management, level IV.

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