Early definitive fracture fixation is safely performed in the presence of an open abdomen in multiply injured patients

Nina E. Glass, Clay Cothren Burlew, Jens Hahnhaussen, Sebastian Weckbach, Fredric M. Pieracci, Ernest E. Moore, Philip F. Stahel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Objective: To investigate the safety and feasibility of performing definitive fracture fixation in multiply injured patients in the presence of an open abdomen after laparotomy. Design: Retrospective observational cohort study. Setting: Level-I academic trauma center. Patients: Adult polytrauma patients with the presence of an open abdomen after "damage control" laparotomy and associated major fractures of long bones, acetabulum, pelvis, or spine, requiring surgical repair (n = 81). Intervention: Timing of definitive fracture fixation in relation to the timing of abdominal wall closure. Main Outcome Measure: Incidence of orthopedic surgical site infections. Results: During a 15-year time window from January 1, 2000 until December 31, 2014, we identified a cohort of 294 consecutive polytrauma patients with an open abdomen after laparotomy. Surgical fixation of associated fractures was performed after the index laparotomy in 81 patients. In group 1 (n = 32), fracture fixation occurred significantly sooner despite a concurrent open abdomen, compared with group 2 (n = 49) with abdominal wall closure before fixation (mean 4.4 vs. 11.8 days; P = 0.01). The incidence of orthopaedic surgical site infections requiring a surgical revision was significantly lower in group 1 (3.1%) compared to group 2 (30.6%; P = 0.002). Conclusions: Definitive fracture fixation in the presence of an open abdomen is performed safely and associated with a significant decrease in clinically relevant surgical site infections, compared with delaying fracture fixation until abdominal wall closure. These data suggest that the strategy of imposing a time delay in orthopaedic procedures while awaiting abdominal wall closure is unjustified.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)624-630
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of orthopaedic trauma
Issue number12
StatePublished - 2017

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Surgery
  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine


  • Fracture fixation
  • Laparotomy
  • Open abdomen
  • Polytrauma
  • Surgical site infection


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