Neurologic and vascular structures are at risk of iatrogenic injury from proximal interlocking screw insertion after retrograde nailing. This risk may increase in the presence of acetabular fractures because of the displacement of soft tissues resulting from hematoma. The purpose of this study was to establish and compare the relative safe zones (RSZs) for interlocking screw insertion in adults with and without concomitant acetabular fractures.

Thirty pelvic computed tomography scans of patients with acute unilateral acetabular fracture and magnetic resonance imaging scans of five healthy legs were used to evaluate the course of the femoral sheath, neurovascular complex, and the sciatic nerve as they course through the proximal thigh in sixty-five limbs.

The anatomy of the neurovascular structures on the fractured side was statistically different from that of the normal side. On the normal side, the RSZ at the lesser trochanteric level was identified from +7 degrees medial to +20 degrees lateral to the sagittal axis (27-degree angle zone) for anteroposterior screw placement. These values for the fractured side, respectively, changed to +1 degrees and +14 degrees (13-degree angle zone), a 52 percent decrease. The RSZ for lateral-medial screw placement was 28 degrees anterior to 39 degrees posterior to the coronal axis (67-degree angle zone) for the normal side, which changed, respectively, to 32 degrees and 41 degrees (73-degree angle zone) for the fractured side. At the level of the lesser trochanter, rotation in the femoral shaft was mimicked only in part (approximately 50 percent) by the neurovascular structures.

Lateral-medial screw insertion is safer than anteroposterior insertion. Anteroposterior screw insertion becomes even more critical if the acetabulum is fractured. Femoral external rotation after rod insertion, but before screw insertion, will enlarge the safe zones.