The Effect of Variable Size Posterior Wall Acetabular Fractures on Contact Characteristics of the Hip Joint

Steven A. Olson, Brian K. Bay, Andrew N. Pollak, Neil A. Sharkey, Toan Lee

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The indications for open reduction and internal fixation of posterior wall acetabular fractures associated with a clinically stable hip joint are unclear. In previous work a large posterior wall defect (27% articular surface area) resulted in significant alteration of load transmission across the hip; specifically, there was a transition from evenly distributed loading along the acetabular articular surface to loading concentrated mainly in the superior portion of the articular surface during simulated single leg stance. However, the majority of posterior wall fractures involve a smaller amount of the articular surface. Posterior wall acetabular fractures not associated with instability of the hip are commonly treated nonoperatively. This practice does not account for the size of the posterior wall fracture. To study the biomechanical consequences of variably sized articular defects, a laboratory experiment was conducted evaluating three progressively larger posterior wall defects of the acetabulum during simulated single leg stance using superlow Fuji prescale film (Itochu International, New York): (a) 1/3 articular surface width through a 50° arc along the posterior wall of the acetabulum, (b) 2/3, and (c) 3/3 articular width defects through the same 50° arc along the posterior wall of the acetabulum. In the intact acetabulum, 48% of the total articular contact was located in the superior acetabulum. Twenty-eight percent of articular contact was in the anterior wall region of the acetabulum and 24% in the posterior wall region. After the 1/3 width posterior wall defect, 64% of the articular contact was located in the superior acetabulum (p = 0.0011). The 2/3 width posterior wall defect resulted in 71% of articular contact area being located in the superior acetabulum (p = 0.0006). After the 3/3 width posterior wall defect, 77% of articular contact was located in the superior acetabulum, significantly greater than the intact condition (p < 0.0001) and 1/3 width defect (p = 0.0222). The total absolute contact areas for all defect conditions were significantly less than the intact condition. The results of this study reconfirm the observation that posterior wall fractures of the acetabulum significantly alter the articular contact characteristics in the hip during single leg stance. The relationship between defect size and changes in joint contact showed that the smallest defect resulted in the greatest alteration in joint contact areas, whereas larger defects resulted in minor increments of change in contact area. This finding is of concern because the clinical practice of managing acetabular fractures nonoperatively if the hip joint is stable is based on the supposition that the joint retains enough integrity to function without undue risk of late posttraumatic osteoarthritis. A better understanding of the natural history of stable posterior wall acetabular fractures is needed to ascertain whether some of these fractures merit operative repair.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)395-402
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of orthopaedic trauma
Issue number6
StatePublished - 1996

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Surgery
  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine


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