Focal osteolysis at the junctions of a modular stainless-steel femoral intramedullary nail

D. M. Jones, J. L. Marsh, J. V. Nepola, J. J. Jacobs, A. K. Skipor, R. M. Urban, J. L. Gilbert, J. A. Buckwalter

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62 Scopus citations


Background: During routine follow-up of patients treated with a three-piece stainless-steel modular femoral nail, osteolysis and periosteal reaction around the modular junctions of some of the nails were noted on radiographs. The purpose of this study was to evaluate the prevalence, etiology, and clinical relevance of these radiographic findings. Methods: Forty-four femoral fractures or nonunions in forty-two patients were treated with a modular stainless-steel femoral intramedullary nail. Seventeen nails were excluded, leaving twenty-seven intramedullary nails in twenty-seven patients for this study. All patients had a femoral diaphyseal fracture; nineteen had had an acute fracture and eight, a nonunion. These twenty-seven patients returned for radiographs, a physical examination, assessment of functional outcomes, assessment of thigh pain with a visual analog scale, determination of serum chromium levels, and nail removal if desired. A control group of sixteen patients treated with a one-piece stainless-steel femoral intramedullary nail was evaluated with use of the same outcome measures and was compared with the group treated with the modular femoral nail with regard to prevalence of thigh pain and serum chromium levels. Twelve modular femoral nails were removed according to the study protocol. The modular nail junctions were analyzed for corrosion products, and histopathologic analysis of tissue specimens from the femoral canal was performed. Results: The twenty-seven patients were seen at a mean of twenty-one months after fracture fixation; twenty-six of the twenty-seven fractures healed. Twenty-three femora had at least one of three types of abnormalities - osteolysis, periosteal reaction, or cortical thickening - localized to one or both modular junctions. Eighteen patients had severe reactions, defined as osteolysis of ≥2 mm, cortical thickening of ≥5 mm, and/or a periosteal reaction (group 1). Nine patients had mild or no reactions (group 2). Serum chromium levels in group 1 (mean, 1.27 ng/mL; range, 0.34 to 3.12 ng/mL) were twice as high as those in group 2 (mean, 0.53 ng/mL; range, 0.12 to 1.26 ng/mL). However, this difference did not reach significance with the numbers available. The differences in serum chromium levels between group 1 and the control group with a one-piece nail (mean, 0.26 ng/mL; range, 0.015 to 1.25 ng/mL) (p < 0.01) and a control group without an implant (mean, 0.05 ng/mL; range, 0.015 to 0.25 ng/mL) (p < 0.01) were significant. The level of thigh pain recorded on the visual analog scale was also significantly different between group 1 and the control group with a one-piece implant (p = 0.03). Retrieved modular nails had signs of fretting corrosion as well as stainless-steel corrosion products adherent to the junction where the osteolysis occurred. Histologic and spectrographic analysis revealed two types of corrosion products that were consistent with stainless-steel within the peri-implant tissue and were associated with a foreign-body granulomatous response. Conclusions: The presence of corrosion products at the taper junctions suggests that particulate debris was a major factor in the etiology of the radiographic findings of osteolysis, periosteal reaction, and cortical thickening. Serum chromium levels were substantially elevated in the patients with a modular femoral nail, and such levels may serve as a marker of fretting corrosion of these devices.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)537-548
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Bone and Joint Surgery
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2001

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine


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