Authors of section

Authors

Fergal Monsell, Dalia Sepulveda

General Editor

Chris Colton

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Open reduction; K-wire fixation

1. Introduction

Note: Be aware of nonaccidental injury in infants.

Careful scrutiny of the x-rays is important to identify the presence or absence of a metaphyseal component, as this may be the only radiologically visible sign of a corner/bucket handle fracture.

definition

2. Patient preparation

This procedure is normally performed with the patient in a supine position.

closed reduction short or long arm cast

3. Approach

Ulnar approach

For this procedure an ulnar approach is normally used.

open reduction k wire fixation

Anatomy to the distal forearm

A thorough knowledge of the anatomy of the wrist is essential.

The additional material gives a short introduction.

closed reduction short or long arm cast

4. K-wire fixation

Skin incision

A small skin incision is made directly over the ulnar styloid.

The incision is deepened to the bone using a blunt artery forceps and a protective sleeve is inserted.

Care should be taken to avoid damage to the dorsal sensory branch of the ulnar nerve.

open reduction k wire fixation

K-wire insertion

A single 1.6 mm smooth K-wire is inserted into the detached styloid fragment and used as a joystick to achieve reduction under direct vision.

The wire should be inserted using a T-handle.

Once reduction is satisfactory, the K-wire is advanced until it just engages the radial cortex of the distal ulnar metaphysis.

Ideally, the K-wire is inserted under image intensifier control to check the trajectory of the wire and to ensure engagement of the far cortex without penetration into the soft tissues.

open reduction k wire fixation

The K-wire is left protruding through the skin, bent and cut. The skin is protected with sterile padding prior to the application of a cast.

The illustration demonstrates the use of a small section of plastic tubing over the cut ends of the protruding wires. This adds further protection for the skin.

Note: Excessive pressure between dressing and skin should be avoided to prevent skin necrosis.

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5. Short arm cast

General considerations

The purpose of the cast is protective and for pain relief, as stability is provided by the K-wire.

The short arm cast is applied according to standard procedure:

Note: In young, small, or noncompliant patients, it is safer to apply a long arm cast.

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Splitting of cast

If a complete cast is applied in the acute phase after injury, it is safer to split the cast down to skin over its full length.

closed reduction short or long arm cast

6. Long arm cast

In the event that a long arm cast is necessary (see above) it is applied and split according to standard procedure.

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7. Aftercare

Tight cast

Further swelling in a restricting cast can cause pain, venous congestion in the fingers and occasionally a compartment syndrome.

For this reason any complete cast applied in acute phase should be split down to skin.


closed reduction short or long arm cast

Parents/carers should be instructed how to detect circulatory problems by pressing and releasing the fingertips and watching if the blood flow/color returns to normal (capillary refill), compared to the opposite hand.


closed reduction short or long arm cast

Compartment syndrome

Compartment syndrome is an unusual but serious complication after the application of a complete cast and can be difficult to diagnose, especially in younger children. Neurological signs appear late and the main sign is excessive pain on passive extension of the fingers.

It is important to make sure that the parents/carers are aware of the risk of compartment syndrome.


closed reduction short or long arm cast

The parents/carers and patient should be informed to take note of increased pain and/or unresponsiveness to normal painkillers.

They should know that this may indicate serious complications. It is important for them to detect these signs as early as possible and report them urgently to the surgeon/nurse by telephone, or to attend the Emergency Room (ER) without delay.


closed reduction short or long arm cast

Nerve compression is an occasional complication and the signs include:

  • Sensory deficits (numbness)
  • Weakness of active finger movement
  • Paresthesia

Infections

See also the additional material on postoperative infections.

Cast care

If a normal plaster of Paris cast is used, it is important to keep the cast clean and dry in order to maintain the reduction.

When the swelling has reduced, the cast can become loose. The loss of support can result in loss of reduction.

In this circumstance, the parents/carers are advised to return to the healthcare provider.

Follow-up x-rays

Depending on the fracture pattern, the age of the child and the method of treatment, the patient has to return for follow-up x-rays to monitor the fracture position.

X-rays taken for fracture position can be taken with cast in place. Any x-rays to assess the state of bone healing must be taken without the cast and correlated with clinical examination.

In most cases, it is conventional to obtain follow-up x-rays after reduction to ensure that the position is maintained.

In general, in the child below 5 years of age, the follow-up is usually about 4-5 days after reduction. In the older child with a potentially unstable fracture, an x-ray would normally be taken at 7-10 days.

Further follow-up x-ray is a matter of clinical judgement, the responsibility of the treating surgeon, and tends to be longer in older children (see also Healing times).

For complete fractures of the metaphysis, redisplacement after reduction is not uncommon. It is therefore, important to take early follow-up x-rays in order to detect a possible redisplacement.

See also the additional material on posttraumatic growth disturbances.

K-wire removal

The K-wires can be removed without sedation in the clinic after approximately 3 weeks (depending on the age of the child).