What is a Distal Femur Fracture?
Causes of Distal Femur Fractures
Distal femur fractures may be caused by high energy injuries such as a fall from a height or a motor vehicle accident. Patients with osteoporosis, bone tumors or infections, or a history of knee replacement are more prone to femur fractures. In the elderly, even a simple fall from a standing position may result in a fracture as the bones tend to become weak and fragile with advancing age.
Pain with weightbearing along with swelling and bruising are the common symptoms of a distal femur fracture. The site is painful and tender to touch with a visible physical deformity and shortening of the leg.
Diagnosis of a Distal Femur Fracture
The diagnosis of a distal femur fracture is based on the patient’s medical history including history of any previous injuries, a complete physical examination and imaging studies. The physician will evaluate the soft tissue around the joint to identify any signs of nerve or blood vessel injury. Multiple X-rays and other imaging studies such as CT and MRI scans may be used to identify the location and severity of the fracture.
Treatment for Distal Femur Fractures
The management of these type of fractures is based on the severity of the fracture, medical condition of the patient and the patient’s lifestyle.;
Surgical treatment is considered to realign the fractured bones. The use of advanced technology and special materials has improved the surgical outcome even in older patients. External or internal fixation or a knee replacement may be required depending on the extent of the fracture. Timing of the surgery is an important factor in improving the surgical outcome.
An external fixator is used when the surrounding soft tissue is severely damaged, as the use of plates and screws may be harmful.
The external fixator maintains the alignment of the bone till surgery.
Once the patient is prepared for surgery, the surgeon removes the external fixator and places internal fixation devices into the bone during surgery.
The internal fixation may be performed using intramedullary nailing or plates and screws. In intramedullary nailing a metal rod is inserted into the marrow canal of the femur to keep the fractured fragment in position.
In the plate and screw method the bone fragments are realigned and held together with screws and plates, attached to the outer surface of the bone.
If the fracture is of the comminuted type or the bone has broken into many pieces, plates or rods may be used at the ends of the fracture without disturbing the smaller pieces.
The plate or rod will maintain the shape or strength of the bone till it heals. In elderly patients and those with poor bone quality, bone grafting may be used to improve the healing.
Knee replacement may also be considered in complicated fractures or those with poor bone quality. Artificial implants may be used to replace the fractured segments of the bone and joint.
Rehabilitation after Surgery
Rehabilitation of the distal femur fracture depends upon several factors such as age, general health of the patient and the type of fracture. As the fracture involves a weight bearing joint it can cause long term problems such as loss of knee motion or instability and long-term arthritis if not properly rehabilitated. Hence a rehabilitation program is initiated along with instructions on weight bearing, knee movements, and the use of external devices such as braces.