Research in Engineering and Aviation

Locked versus Standard Unlocked Plating of the Pubic Symphysis: A Cadaver Biomechanical Study

July 2012

Author(s): Grimshaw, C.S., and Bledsoe, G., and Moed, B.R.

Journal: Journal of Orthopaedic Trauma, 26(7):402-406.  DOI: 10.1097/BOT.0b013e31822c83bd 


Objectives: Although locked plating has been shown to have advantages for diaphyseal and metaphyseal fracture fixation, its benefits for pubic symphyseal disruption have not been established. With traditional plate fixation of the disrupted pubic symphysis, normal physiological symphyseal pelvic motion eventually results in plate breakage, screw breakage, and loosening of screws. A concern exists that common modes of locked plate construct failure could result in abrupt and complete loss of symphyseal fixation. The purposes of this study were to determine, using an open-book pelvic injury model, whether locked plating of the pubic symphysis 1) offers any advantage over standard unlocked plating; and 2) results in a potential increased risk of abrupt fixation failure.

Methods: Twelve osteopenic cadaver pelvic specimens were acquired and dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry scans were obtained to ensure uniformity of the specimens’ bone density. Sacrospinous, sacrotuberous, and anterior sacroiliac ligaments were released and the symphysis pubis was transected to simulate a partially stable open book (AO/Orthopaedic Trauma Association 61-B3.1) injury. Using a six-hole 3.5-mm plate specifically designed for the symphysis pubis with the capability of fixation in locked or unlocked mode, six pelvises were fixed with locked screws and six pelvises were fixed standard unlocked bicortical screws. There was no significant difference between these 2 groups with regard to bone density (P = 0.47). Two equally osteopenic pelvic specimens from each fixation group were selected for the purpose of obtaining failure data and determining an acceptable load for trialing. Both specimens failed at 1985 N. The remaining 10 pelvises were then mounted on a materials testing apparatus using the bilateral stance model as described by Tile. In accordance with the failure data, each pelvis was stressed at 440 N for a total of one million cycles (equivalent to 6.5 months of daily walking) or until fixation failure.

Results: All pelvic specimens in both fixation groups completed one million cycles without plate or screw failure. However, diastasis of the initial pubic symphysis reduction was found in all pelvises (mean, 2.45 mm; range, 1.5–4.0 mm) regardless of fixation method. This loss of reduction was not significantly different between the 2 fixation groups (P = 0.914).

Conclusions: No abrupt failures occurred in either plating group. Consequently, any fear of catastrophic (ie, abrupt and complete) failure of locked symphyseal plates appears to be unfounded for open-book injuries treated in patients with low bone density. However, minor loss of the symphyseal reduction was evident in all pelvises regardless of the fixation method. Therefore, locked plating of the pubic symphysis does not appear to offer any advantage over the standard unlocked technique for an AO/Orthopaedic Trauma Association 61-B3.1 partially stable open-book pelvic injury pattern in osteopenic bone.

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