The femoral supracondylar nail: preliminary experience.

Published online: Dec 27 1998

T Scheerlinck, P Krallis, P Y Descamps, D Hardy, and P Delincé.

Department of Orthopedic Surgery and Traumatology, C.H.U. St.-Pierre, Brussels, Belgium.


The treatment of supracondylar fractures of the femur with an intramedullary nail presents some theoretical advantages. Compared to plate osteosynthesis, intramedullary fixation requires less extensive dissection and is biomechanically more favorable. In the elderly patient, these characteristics seem important since bone quality, extensive procedures and bone grafting remain problematic. Since August 1994 we have treated 16 consecutive closed fractures of the distal femur (A.O. type: 7 A.1, 2 A.3, 4 C.1, and 3 C.2) with the Green-Seligson-Henry intramedullary retrograde supracondylar nail. Twelve elderly and osteoporotic patients had suffered low-energy trauma, three young patients had been involved in a traffic accident and one other young patient had attempted suicide. The operative technique, complications and results are described. All fractures healed within a few months (2 to 7) without bone grafting. No failure of the fixation material and no deep infection were encountered. With most elderly patients the functional result was judged satisfactory, considering the population studied. Intraoperative determination of alignment and avoiding shortening were the major difficulties, especially with long oblique or comminuted fractures. Two major complications were encountered in the young population. In one instance nail protrusion in the intercondylar notch caused a deep patellar cartilage erosion and sympathetic distrophy leading to a 15 degrees flexion deformity. Another young patient needed a quadriceps release at the fracture site and subsequently a femoral valgus osteotomy in order to achieve an acceptable final result. In elderly osteoporotic patients presenting an isolated supracondylar fracture, antegrade nailing remains the "safest" technique by avoiding an unnecessary arthrotomy. When previous hip or knee surgery precludes the use of antegrade nailing techniques or when the fracture extends into the intercondylar region, retrograde supracondylar nailing offers some advantages compared to conservative treatment or plate osteosynthesis. On the other hand in young patients, anatomic reduction and alignment should be the goal, and open reduction with plate osteosynthesis, supplemented by bone grafting if needed, should remain the gold standard. When this seems technically impossible, the antegrade or retrograde insertion of an intramedullary nail with intraoperative assessment of length and fracture alignment is an interesting alternative.