Effectiveness and complications of primary C-clamp stabilization or external fixation for unstable pelvic fractures

Hagen Schmal*, Morten Schultz Larsen, Fabian Stuby, Peter C. Strohm, Kilian Reising, Kelly Goodwin Burri

*Corresponding author for this work

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BACKGROUND AND PURPOSE: Unstable pelvic fractures frequently require emergency stabilization using a C-clamp or external (CC/EF) fixation. However, the effectiveness of this intervention and associated complications are still a matter of debate.

PATIENTS AND METHODS: The analysis used data available from the German Pelvic Trauma Registry to study general complications, infections and mortality after primary stabilization using CC/EF in 5,499 patients (n = 957 with vs n = 4,542 without). Furthermore, the subgroups with secondary surgery (n = 713 vs n = 1,695), and ilio-sacral screw implantation following C-clamp stabilization were evaluated (n = 24 vs n = 219). Calculated odds ratios were adjusted for potential confounders.

RESULTS: Patients treated by CC/EF were younger (45 ± 20 vs 62 ± 24 years), had more C-type fractures (65% vs 28%), higher ISS (≥25 63% vs 20%) and displacement (≥3 mm 81% vs 41%), and more complex fractures (32% vs 5%). These features were independent risk factors for complications (p < 0.001). While mortality was reduced after CC/EF stabilization by 32% (OR 0.68 95%CI 0.49-0.95), the risk for general complications was slightly increased (OR 1.25 95% CI 1.02-1.53). In patients undergoing secondary surgery, CC/EF fixation had no influence on mortality, general complications or infections. Related to preceding C-clamp stabilization (OR 4.67 95% CI 1.06-20.64), the risk for infection increased from 3.2% to 20.8% in ilio-sacral screw fixation.

INTERPRETATION: Primary stabilization of unstable pelvic fractures with C-clamp or external fixation is associated with a decreased mortality and was not an independent risk factor for complications after secondary surgery. However, the risk for infection after ilio-sacral screw fixation increased almost 5-fold after C-clamp use.

Original languageEnglish
Issue number11
Pages (from-to)1959-1965
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2019


  • Complication
  • Emergency fixation
  • Logistic regression models
  • Mortality
  • Registry
  • Treatment
  • Unstable pelvic fracture

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