This is part 2 in Dr Alan Garner’s series on pelvic fractures and the approach to binders. You can find part 1 here.
In part one we had a look at the evidence for benefit from pelvic binders. In short there is no study yet published showing a significant improvement in mortality. Not even a cohort study.
Of course, it still might be OK to use them if they possibly help as long as there is no evidence of harm either (and they don’t cost too much). The probability of good has to outweigh the probability of evil. It is the potential for evil that I want to examine now so we can see where the balance lies.
Before we can do that though we need to have a quick look at the types of pelvic ring fractures (no one is suggesting that non-pelvic ring fractures of the pelvis benefit from a binder). So sorry folks but we have a bit of theory to re-visit.
Forces Down There
I use the Young and Burgess classification system as it is based on the force vector that caused the injury. In the prehospital world mechanism of injury is almost the only guide to injury type that is available to us (ultrasound may also give us some clues but we will talk about that in part 3).
AP compression injuries
This is an anteroposterior (AP) compression injury. This is the kind of fracture you see in frontal motor vehicle collisions, commonly in motor bike riders, and people who have been crushed by a vehicle rolling over their pelvis for example. The hallmark is pubic diastasis with or without disruption of the SI joints. The AP compression causes the pelvis to open: one or both hemipelves undergo external rotation.
External rotation of the hemipelvis results in an increase in the volume of the pelvic cavity which then allows more pelvic haemorrhage to occur before the osseous and soft-tissue structures cause tamponade. Exsanguination is the primary risk & reduction of the increased pelvic volume is one of the goals of prehospital care.
When I was a boy Master taught me the way to reduce a fracture is to reverse the force that caused it in the first place. With this type of injury a pelvic binder makes biomechanical sense because it reverses the direction of the force which caused it. In severe AP compression injuries one or both hemipelves have been rotated backward. Applying a binder will rotate the hemipelves back towards each other, or “close the book”.
As I mentioned in part 1 there is very little evidence on whether this is actually helpful despite the theoretical benefit. Tan’s study was observational and involved only 15 subjects in an emergency department setting. All subjects had been X-rayed prior to application of the device so the type of injury was known (unlike our context in most cases). Nine of the 15 patients in this study had AP compression type injuries with wide diastasis of the pubic symphysis. Although there is some missing data, all patients with this pattern either had no change in MAP or it improved. So far so good.
There is a similar English study with 3 severe AP compression injury patients who improved with a binder (Nunn) but numbers are obviously pretty small.
Croce’s study appears to have had mostly AP compression fracture types (186 patients with breakdown between types not stated). Decreased transfusion requirements were found in the binder group at 24 and 48 hours (significant), the patients had decreased length of stay (significant), and lower mortality (non-significant). This does provide some support for use in severe AP compression injuries noting the methodology issues which I discussed in Part 1 with a retrospective study that included patients over a 10 year period.
There are a number of other studies which show improved alignment +/- blood pressure rise in AP compression type fractures in trauma patients, in cadavers and even in one prehospital study. None of these studies assess patient outcome though (I acknowledge this is difficult in cadaver studies!) Reduction can be so good that the fracture is difficult to see on subsequent Xray.
So in AP compression injury all the evidence points to better anatomical alignment, higher blood pressure, lower transfusion requirements, and shorter length of hospital stay when you use a binder. Mortality might be better too, but this remains to be proven. The important thing is there are no reports of adverse events in this group. When you see this fracture type on Xray or the mechanism suggests this injury – go for the binder. The risk of adverse advents is certainly outweighed by the possible benefits based on the best current evidence.
Lateral compression injuries
Lateral compression injury results in internal rotation of the affected hemipelvis. This internal rotation decreases rather than increases the pelvic volume so they tend to bleed less than the other types. Life threatening haemorrhage is still possible though. The hallmarks include sacral buckle fractures and horizontal pubic rami fractures.
Remember my boyhood teaching – “Grasshopper, to reduce fracture you must reverse force that caused it”. There is an obvious problem here as applying a binder replicates the causal force and if anything is likely to make it worse.
Have a look at this Xray of a lateral compression injury. Put a binder around the greater trochanters and pull. Are you a force for good or evil?
So what is the evidence? The Tan paper did not include any lateral compression injuries – remember that they had looked at the X-ray prior to application. I assume they looked and thought “well that is not going to help”. There is no evidence the Croce study included any either.
Is there evidence that a lateral compression fracture can get worse with a binder? (You have to be suspicious when binder studies appear to have avoided this fracture type altogether).
A recent Australian study (Toth) from 2012 had 8 cases with lateral compression that had binders applied. In three it resulted in increased pelvic deformity on subsequent Xray. They did not report the haemodynamic consequences. In the other 5 there was no improvement. There is biomechanical evidence of this in cadavers too e.g. Bottlang et al (if you look at this paper note again that they did not even attempt it in the LC3 injuries – the most severe grade).
Now this really disturbs me. There are docs I have met who are adamant that pelvic fracture patients should not be logrolled & should only be moved on scoop stretchers etc because the fracture fragments might move just with this limited motion. These same docs are however happy to put a binder on regardless of mechanism and pull, creating a much larger force than a logroll does, when we have direct evidence that binders increase fragment displacement in lateral compression injuries. Some consistency would be nice.
The bottom line is that there is no theoretical reason to believe that binders help in lateral compression injuries and lots of reasons to think they might make things worse. There is direct evidence in real world trauma patients that increased deformity of the pelvis does occur. There is no published data at all on the haemodynamic consequences when this happens, but I am betting you are not going to see improvement. The balance of risk here is on the dark side, not the light.
Bottom line is leave the binder in the bag in the bag for clear lateral compression mechanisms. It cannot help and there is published evidence of harm.
(Stay tuned for part 3 where we’ll get to vertical shear injuries – and other stuff).
Croce MA, Magnotti LJ, Savage SA, Wood 2nd GW, Fabian TC. Emergent pelvic fixation in patients with exsanguinating pelvic fractures. Journal of the American College of Surgeons 2007;204:935–9. [discussion 40–2]
Nunn T, Cosker TDA, Bose D, Pallister I. Immediate application of improvised pelvic binder as first step in extended resuscitation from life-threatening hypovolaemic shock in conscious patients with unstable pelvic injuries. Injury, Int. J. Care Injured (2007) 38, 125—128.