Executive Editor: Chris Colton

Authors: Peter V Giannoudis, Hans Christoph Pape, Michael Schütz

Femur shaft 32-B2 CRIF subtrochanteric

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1 General considerations top

Reamed versus unreamed nailing

In general, reamed nailing allows the use of larger diameter implants and may therefore provide greater initial stability. Some studies show a tendency towards less malunion and nonunion when reaming is performed. On the other hand, fat embolization is a concern and with the solid unreamed nails, the forces required to deform the nail in torsion are higher. Most centers prefer reamed nailing as the standard procedure.

General considerations enlarge

Important module-wide statement

Where appropriate, a “generic” fracture zone will be illustrated and not necessarily the specific fracture morphology under consideration. Where the fracture morphology determines the fixation technique, the specific morphology will be shown.

2 Choice of implant top

Choice of implant enlarge

General consideration

In order to gain purchase in the short proximal fragment, a dedicated cephalomedullary device is often preferred.


Alternatively, the standard femoral nail with a helical blade may be used. Insertion of a second locking screw underneath the helical blade can be considered, depending on the location of the fracture.

Proximal locking options

The choice of the implant and the fracture configuration determines the potential proximal locking options to be considered.

3 Reduction top

Reduction enlarge

General considerations

Subtrochanteric fractures represent a particular problem in terms of fracture reduction and alignment. Due to the strong forces exerted by the iliopsoas muscle, the proximal fragment is flexed and externally rotated, and can be extremely difficult to control. This may even require open reduction maneuvers in order to ensure correct alignment.

If an anatomic reduction is not achieved, the nail will maintain the malalignment and most likely a malunion, nonunion, or implant failure will result. Therefore, the first steps of the operation are crucial to the final outcome. The reduction maneuvers in general are similar to midshaft fractures.

Several options for fracture reduction are available:

  • Depressing the proximal fragment by use of external pressure from a mallet.
  • A Schanz screw inserted into one of the fragments.
  • Use of a bone hook.
  • (Poller screws – blocking screws)

Reduction enlarge

The proximal fragment may be flexed and externally rotated by the iliopsoas muscle.

Reduction enlarge

Depressing the proximal fragment by use of external pressure from a mallet

The use of a mallet can be attempted, but will often fail because of the shortness of the proximal fragment, and is difficult to maintain during subsequent stages of the procedure.

Reduction enlarge

A Schanz screw inserted into one of the fragments

A monocortical Schanz screw (preferably 5 mm) can be helpful for providing direct access to the displaced fragments. It is superior to reduction maneuvers through the skin.

Reduction enlarge

Use of a bone hook

Direct reduction via a bone hook may be helpful for providing anatomic alignment. Careful insertion and manipulation must be performed in order to minimize soft-tissue trauma and to prevent injury to the femoral artery.

Poller screws (blocking screws)

The concept of poller blocking screws is explained in detail in antegrade nailing of midshaft and distal femoral fractures ( see here).

In subtrochanteric fractures the occasional use of a medial poller blocking screw is attempted by very experienced surgeons. It carries the danger of blow-out fracture of the proximal fragment and is not recommended for this fracture type.

Reduction enlarge

Insert guide wire

A guide wire is advanced into the distal main fragment until it is about 5 mm proximal to the intercondylar notch. It is important that the guide wire be centered in order to prevent eccentric reaming and subsequent malposition of the nail, which can result in varus/valgus/antecurvatum/retrocurvatum malalignment.

Unreamed nailing does not require a guide wire. When unreamed nailing is performed, the nail is used as a reduction tool.

Reduction enlarge

To ensure maintenance of alignment of the K-wire throughout the reaming process, it may be gently be tapped in order to provide purchase in the cancellous subchondral bone. If this is not achieved, the guide wire may displace on removal and exchange of the reamers.

4 Determine nail length and diameter top

Determine nail length and diameter enlarge

Determine nail length via guide wire (only with reamed nailing)

The correct length of the nail is determined by comparing a second guide wire to the one that has been inserted. The correct placement of the guide wire in the distal canal should be assessed via image intensifier. Additionally, the second guide wire must be positioned in contact with the greater trochanter. This must be verified by image intensifier as well.

Determine nail length and diameter enlarge

Radiographic ruler

Alternatively, a radiographic ruler may be used.

The tip of the ruler should be positioned in the center of the distal end of the femur. Nail length is determined by the position of piriformis fossa, not by the tip of the greater trochanter.

Determine nail length and diameter enlarge

It is important to visualize the fracture zone by image intensifier to ensure that adequate restoration of femoral length has been achieved.

Determine nail length and diameter enlarge

Nail diameter

It is important to measure the medullary diameter at the mid portion of the femur, which represents the narrowest segment of the medullary canal.

The inner cortical edge should touch with the inner numbered disk of the ruler aperture. In the illustration an inner cortical diameter of 14 mm is shown.

Consideration for special situations

In multifragmentary fractures, or in open fractures with bone loss, it is safer to perform preoperative planning on the uninjured leg. In bilateral femoral fractures, the less comminuted side should be used to determine the length and diameter of the nail.

5 Nail locking - general considerations top

Nail locking - general considerations enlarge

Special situations: 130° antegrade locking

When a dedicated cephalomedullary device is not available and the fracture configuration permits, a 130° antegrade locking option can be considered.

Nail locking - general considerations enlarge

Special situation: associated femoral neck fracture

The "miss-a-nail" system has been designed for associated femoral neck fractures.

Nail locking - general considerations enlarge

Use all locking options

If a standard nail is inserted, it is wise to use multiple proximal locking options.

Nail locking - general considerations enlarge

Pearl: secure screw by use of a suture

If the contact between the screw driver and the locking screw is lost, the screw may move within the soft tissue and become extremely difficult to capture. To prevent this time-consuming complication, the locking screw should be lassoed with a strong absorbable suture.

6 Reaming top

Reaming enlarge

Insertion of reaming rod

After the tissue protector has been introduced, the reaming shaft, fitted with the first reamer head, is inserted over the guide wire. Usually reaming begins with a 9 mm medullary reamer.

Reaming enlarge

Sequential reamer size increase

Reaming is performed in sequential steps by increments of 0.5 mm each.

As soon as chatter from cancellous bone can be felt and heard, the inner cortex has been reached. This may not be the case in segmental fractures or when severe comminution is present.

Adequate reaming must be performed in order to allow for smooth nail insertion. For example, for a nail width of 10 mm, drill bits of up to 10.5 or 11 mm diameter are used. If a very tight fit of the reamer can be detected before the desired reaming size is reached, one should consider using a smaller nail than previously planned.

Pitfalls: eccentric and overaggressive reaming

Eccentric reaming
Eccentric reaming can cause weakening of the adjacent cortex which may interfere with healing or even cause a fatigue fracture.

Trapping of reamer by slow spinning
If the reamer becomes trapped while reaming, it must be gently removed by the most senior surgeon, because breakage of the reamer tip in this situation can be a devastating complication.

Heat necrosis by overaggressive reaming
Overaggressive reaming should be avoided because it may cause heat necrosis of the femoral canal. This applies especially for narrow midshaft canals (9 mm or less in diameter).

Reaming enlarge

Rapid thrusting/systemic fat embolization
Care should be taken to use sharp reamers, to advance the reamers slowly, and to allow sufficient time between reaming steps in order for the intramedullary pressure to normalize. Rapid thrusting of the reamer may worsen the intramedullary pressure increase that is observed during nailing. This image demonstrates fat extrusion in a human cadaver specimen with a window in the proximal section.

Reaming enlarge

This may cause pulmonary embolization of medullary fat, which in turn may lead to pulmonary dysfunction (lower image in the enlarged view shows an example of fat embolization through the right atrium).

Reaming enlarge

Special situation: conversion from an external fixator to an intramedullary nail

Because the external fixator is still in place, the Schanz screws must be partially withdrawn to allow the guide wire, the reamers, and later the nail, to pass through. The external fixator is held in place by monocortical purchase to assure that the fracture remains stable. The external fixator also acts as a joystick for the reduction.

7 Nail insertion top

Nail insertion enlarge

Connecting handle to nail

The insertion handle is connected to the nail by the corresponding connecting screw. It is attached using the hexagonal screwdriver through the hole in the insertion handle. It is recommended that the nail be inserted manually and rotated about 90 degrees from its point of entry to its final orientation.

Nail insertion enlarge

Introduction of nail

Under control with the image intensifier, the nail is pushed down as far as the fracture zone. After the driving cap has been fixed to the insertion handle, the nail is further advanced into the medullary cavity by gentle hammer blows, whilst verifying the position of the tip of the nail under the image intensifier.

Nail insertion enlarge

Passing the fracture zone

It is important that the tip of the nail does not become trapped in the distal main fragment because blow out fractures can occur. Each gentle hammer blow should advance the nail. Do not force the nail through a tight canal – if necessary, re-ream to another 0.5 mm diameter.

Nail insertion enlarge

Assessing proper nail insertion

The nail is then completely inserted. This is assessed by using an additional K-wire that marks the upper end of the nail.

Nail insertion enlarge

Assessing proper nail insertion for helical blade and miss-a-nail system

The position of the helical blade and the miss-a-nail screws should be in the middle portion of the femoral neck, or slightly below. An axial view must be taken in order to ensure proper centering of the implant in the femoral head and neck.

Nail insertion enlarge

Image showing proper nail insertion.

8 Distal locking top

Distal locking enlarge

Verification of nail position

Before locking, the correct position of the nail and the rotation of the femur must be verified.

If no traction table is used (ie, using the freehand technique) the cable method may be used. In this approach, a line is drawn from the iliac spine across the patella to the cleft between the first and second toes. If rotation is correct, this line will pass over the mid line of the patella. The radiological landmarks of the center of the femoral head, the center of the knee and the center of the ankle joint should all be in line if the mechanical axis of the femur is correct.

Another method of assessing rotational reduction is to compare the cortical thickness above and below the fracture. If a shaft fracture is multifragmentary, the image intensifier cannot be used to assess the analogue cortical diameter on both sides of the fracture.

Distal locking enlarge

Distal aiming

For distal locking, the image intensifier is brought into a strict lateral position. The distal hole must be seen as a perfect circle and the tip of a scalpel is projected into the center of the hole.

Distal locking enlarge

This guides the stab incision down to the femoral cortex.

Distal locking enlarge

Screw insertion technique

The radiolucent drive helps to position the drill bit so that the locking screw can be properly inserted. While the locking hole is drilled, the assisting surgeon must prevent the lower extremity from moving in order not to miss the target hole. The length of the locking screw is determined, using the appropriate depth gauge. Then the locking screw is inserted.

Distal locking enlarge

If a radiolucent drive is not available, the projection of the tip of the drill bit should be placed as centrally as possible (see image). Start drilling but assess the position of the tip of the drill bit repeatedly, with the drill temporarily uncoupled.

Distal locking enlarge

Pearl: secure screw using a suture

If the contact between the screw driver and the locking screw is lost, the screw may move within the soft tissue and become extremely hard to capture. To prevent this time-consuming complication, the locking screw should be lassoed with a strong absorbable suture.

Pitfall: trapped locking screw

If the screw holes are not perpendicular to the nail, the locking screw may become trapped and may not be advanced properly.

Distal locking enlarge

Second locking screw

The second locking screw is inserted into the distal locking hole. After distal locking, an axial blow to the knee region may be be used to reduce any fracture distraction.

Alternatively, when distal locking is completed prior to proximal locking, a slotted hammer can be used to pull back the locked nail and the distal fragment.

Distal locking enlarge

Completed distal locking

The image shows the distal locking completed.

Distal locking enlarge

Pitfall: screw loosening

Care should be taken to capture the far cortex in order to prevent toggling when the patient is mobilized. This would lead to early loosening of the locking screw. In the image shown, the proximal locking screw is of correct length, but the distal one is marginally too short.

9 Intraoperative radiological assessment top

Intraoperative radiological assessment enlarge

Assessment of rotation

The profile of the lesser trochanter on the intensifier image is compared with that of the contralateral leg (lesser trochanter shape sign).

Before positioning the patient, the profile of the lesser trochanter of the intact opposite side (patella facing anterior) is stored in the image intensifier.

The illustration shows the lesser trochanter of the intact opposite side.

Intraoperative radiological assessment enlarge


In cases of malrotation, the lesser trochanter is of different profile when compared to that of the contralateral leg.

Care should be taken to assess rotation with the patella facing directly forwards.

Intraoperative radiological assessment enlarge

Intraoperative radiological assessment enlarge

Matching of the lesser trochanter shape

After distal locking, the correction is achieved by using the handle of the nail insertion device. Thereby the distal main fragment can be rotated in relation to the proximal main fragment.

10 Proximal locking top

Proximal locking enlarge

Proximal aiming device

If proximal locking is performed before distal locking, it is important to verify the correct position of the distal end of the nail under the image intensifier, before the proximal aiming device is attached to the insertion handle.

Proximal locking enlarge

Preparation for screw insertion

The sites of the skin and fascial incisions for the drill bit and locking screws may be determined after the drill sleeve assembly has been in the holes of the aiming device.

The length of the locking screws is read from the calibrated drill bit. The correct length is confirmed antero-posteriorly using the image intensifier. The insertion handle should not be removed until the correct placement of all the locking screws has been verified.

Proximal locking enlarge

Drill sleeve to bone contact

The drill sleeve must be in close contact with the bone at all times since it is important for the measurement of the locking screws. Close contact is maintained by pressing down on the sleeve with the contralateral thumb.

Proximal locking enlarge

Verification of locking screw placement

A final x-ray in two planes should be obtained in all cases in order to verify the exact locking screw placement.

Insertion of end cap

An end cap might be inserted depending on the choice of implant.

11 Wound closure and assessment of alignment top

Wound closure and assessment of alignment enlarge

Wound closure

The procedure ends with the closure of the fascia and the skin as separate layers.

Wound closure and assessment of alignment enlarge

Assessment of alignment

Before the patient is moved from the fracture table, rotation of the leg is observed clinically and compared to the contralateral leg.

With the femur now stable, it is possible to perform a thorough examination of the knee joint to rule out additional ligamentous injuries.

v1.0 2007-12-02