Non-union occurs in 5-10% of all fractures and is caused by a variety of mechanical and biological factors. Stable fixation is essential and many authors recommend the addition of bone graft. Our aim was to evaluate the results of internal fixation using Judet decortication and compression plating for long bone fractures and assess the impact of bone grafting on union rates. Our study group comprised all the patients undergoing compression plate fixation under a single surgeon over a fourteen year period (n=96). AO principles were used and the standard technique involved Judet decortication, compression plating and lag screws. Autologous bone graft was harvested from the iliac crest. The mean age was 45 years and 62% were male. The fracture site was the clavicle (n=20); humerus (n=23); radius and ulna (n=5); femur (n=31) and tibia (n=17). The primary fracture treatment was non-operative (n=41); IM nail (n=22); plate fixation (n=28) and external fixation (n=5). Deep infection was present in 6 cases. Bone graft was used in 40 cases. 91/96 non-unions treated with compression plating healed (95%). Bone grafting was used in all cases for the initial part of the series but its use declined as the surgeon became more confident that the non-unions would heal without the use of bone graft. The case mix and complexity remained constant throughout the study period and the union rate also remained constant. The mean time to radiological union was 6.4 months. In those treated with a compression plate without bone graft the union rate was 94.6% whilst the addition of bone graft resulted in a union rate of 95% (p=0.67). From our study we concluded that the routine use of autologous bone graft may not be necessary and, based upon the union rates observed in this study, a prospective randomised study to evaluate the use of bone graft in non-union surgery would need a sample size of 194,000 to detect a significant increase in union with 80% power. In terms of Numbers Needed Treat (NNT), we would need to give 1179 patients a bone graft to prevent one additional failure of healing.

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