The biomechanical cost of variable angle locking screws

John E. Tidwell, Evan P. Roush, Cassandra L. Ondeck, Allen R. Kunselman, J. Spence Reid, Gregory S. Lewis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


Introduction: Variable angle (VA) locking plates in fracture fixation surgery allow screws to be fastened to the plate within a conical “locus of vectors” in order to avoid existing prostheses, joint surfaces, or poor quality bone. Clinical failures of VA constructs in which screws have rotated at the plate/screw interface have been reported raising the concern that there may be a biomechanical cost for the increased flexibility that VA provides. The objective of this study was to test the mechanical properties of one commonly used VA locking mechanism with screws placed in both nominal and off–axis trajectories and compare these against the standard locking mechanism. Methods: VA locking screws were inserted into plates for distal femur fractures (VA Curved Condylar) at various angles (0° to 15° away from perpendicular). A control group of standard locking screws/plates was also tested. Maximum moment at the screw/plate interface and moment at two reference displacements were determined. Results: VA screws locked perpendicular to the plate provided the greatest maximum moment and moment at the reference displacements when using the VA system, and demonstrated lower moments compared to standard locking screws/plates (p < 0.001). Based on linear regression, there was an average decrease of approximately 0.4 Nm screw-plate interface strength for every 1° increase in screw-plate angle (p < 0.001). Decreases (p<0.05) were discovered in both maximum moment and moment at the reference displacements for screws locked at 5° relative to those locked at 0° 10° relative to 0° and 15° relative to 10°. Discussion: Standard locking systems provided greater resistance to rotational failure at the screw/plate interface than variable angle locking systems. Variable angle systems provided the greatest resistance to rotation when the screw was inserted perpendicular to the plate. As the off-axis angle increased, the resistance to rotation at the screw/plate interface decreased almost linearly. It is unknown if these differences are clinically significant in an actual fracture construct, but recent reported failures in the distal femur suggest that they might be. Conclusion: Surgeons should weigh the risks and benefits of VA systems and attempt to minimize the off-axis angle magnitude when VA systems are selected.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1624-1630
Number of pages7
Issue number8
StatePublished - 2016

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Emergency Medicine
  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine


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