OBJECTIVES:
To evaluate patient outcomes after treatment of lower-extremity fractures associated with blister formation and to assess complications after soft-tissue treatment using a prospective protocol.

DESIGN:
Retrospective evaluation of prospectively collected data.

SETTING:
Level I trauma center.

PATIENTS/PARTICIPANTS:
Between September 1999 and September 2003, 47 patients who had sustained a closed lower-extremity fracture with early development of fracture blisters in the zone of injury were followed. Blisters were characterized as either avoidable or unavoidable with respect to surgical incisions, and characteristics such as number, size, blood filled or clear filled, and the presence of an intact roof were documented.

INTERVENTION:
All blisters were unroofed, and antibiotic cream (silver sulfadiazine, Silvadene, King Pharmaceuticals Inc.) was applied twice daily until the blister bed had re-epithelialized.

MAIN OUTCOME MEASUREMENTS:
Fracture union and the development of wound or skin complications. Patient satisfaction with the cosmetic outcome of the treatment regimen was assessed through telephone survey at 23-month minimum follow-up.

RESULTS:
Twenty-eight patients presented with a single blister, and 19 had multiple blisters. Blister size averaged 9.7 cm. Twenty-two patients had blood-filled blisters, 20 had clear-filled blisters, and five had a combination of the two. Fracture patterns included 17 ankle fractures (OTA 44), 13 tibial plateau fractures (OTA 41), five tibial-shaft fractures (OTA 42), eight calcaneus fractures (OTA 45), and four pilon fractures (OTA 43). Mean delay in definitive surgical care was 7.7 days (range 0 to 20 days). The average delay of surgery for ankle fractures was 6 days (range 0 to 18 days), which was significantly less than the delay for calcaneus fractures (12 days, range 4 to 19 days, P < 0.02) and tibial plateau fractures (11 days, range 0 to 20 days, P < 0.02). Thirty-seven of the 45 patients (82.3%) available for follow-up at a mean of 27 weeks (range 14 to 35) had an uncomplicated postoperative course, and fracture union was achieved in 43 of 45 cases (95.6%). The soft-tissue complication rate associated with the standardized treatment regimen was 13.3% (6/45 cases), with three cases of minor soft-tissue breakdown, one superficial infection, and two major complications directly related to the presence of fracture blisters. Both major complications involved full-thickness skin breakdown occurring directly at the base of fracture blisters in patients with diabetes. The skin breakdown required further surgery in both cases. Including the two patients who developed nonunion, the overall complication rate for the treatment cohort was 17.7% (8/45 cases). At a mean follow-up of 51.9 months (range 23 to 73), three patients in the cohort had expired. Of the 42 patients available for evaluation, 28 patients (67%) were reachable for a telephone survey to assess satisfaction with the outcome of the fracture and soft-tissue management. Patients rated their satisfaction with the cosmetic appearance of their lower extremities after the standardized treatment regimen on a scale of 1 to 10 (with 10 representing very satisfied), with a mean of 9.07 (range 5 to 10). Six patients reported scarring at the sites of previous fracture blisters, all of which occurred after blistering of the blood-filled subtype. The presence of scarring significantly decreased patient satisfaction with cosmesis and overall treatment (P < 0.0001 and P < 0.01, respectively).

CONCLUSIONS:
Treatment of fracture blisters with a silver sulfadiazine (Silvadene) regimen proved to be successful in minimizing soft-tissue complications by promoting re-epithelialization in all nondiabetic patients. At long-term follow-up, patients were generally satisfied with the cosmetic outcome of the treatment regimen. Postoperative scarring, which was more common with blood-filled blisters, significantly impacted patient satisfaction. We urge caution when planning to make a surgical incision around an area of both full-thickness (blood-filled) and partial-thickness (clear-filled) fracture blisters in diabetic patients because the zone of injury might extend beyond the borders of the fracture blister.



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