Pelvic fractures

Pelvic fractures can be simple or complex and can involve any part of the bony pelvis. Pelvic fractures can be fatal, and an unstable pelvis requires immediate management.

Pelvic fractures can be seen in any group of patients. Like much trauma, there is a bimodal distribution with younger male patients involved in high-energy trauma and older female patients presenting after minor trauma.

Patients tend to present following trauma with pelvic/hip pain. They will often be immobilized by ambulance crews on arrival and potentially have other life-threatening conditions associated with high-energy trauma.

Most pelvic fractures result from trauma 3:

  • motor vehicle collision (~50%)
  • pedestrian vs motor vehicle (~30%)
  • fall from height (~10%)
  • motorbike collisions (~4%)
  • other e.g. sports injury, low-energy fall

Pelvic insufficiency fractures are common in the elderly.

The type of fracture that occurs is a result of the type of injury (impact or compression), the energy involved and the strength of the bones.

The potential morbidity associated with these fractures is related to the involvement of the pelvic ring. Injuries that result in disruption of the pelvic rings result in a significantly worse prognosis.

Direct impact low-to-moderate energy injuries usually result in a solitary and localized fracture. Compression injuries tend to cause fractures that involve the pelvic ring and are unstable.

Four main forces have been described in high-energy blunt force trauma that results in unstable pelvic fractures 1,3,5:

The Young and Burgess classification grades injuries using this method.

Isolated stable pelvic fractures can also occur in the context of lower energy mechanisms or sporting injuries:

Pelvic fractures carry a significant risk of uncontrolled pelvic bleeding and exsanguination from pelvic fractures is a real possibility. This may result in pelvic, thigh and/or retroperitoneal hemorrhage. Pelvic angio-embolization should be considered in patients with evidence of persistent blood loss with no evidence of intra-abdominal bleeding prior to surgical fixation 3, 4.

Other complications include 4:

The radiographic features are varied and even for serious and severe injuries can be subtle on plain radiographs.

X-rays are a quick and simple test that will detect the majority of pelvic fractures. They can be difficult to assess because of the complexity of the shape of the sacrum, pelvis and proximal femora.

CT is the modality of choice for accurately depicting complex acetabular or pelvic ring fractures. After an initial plain radiograph, a CT is often required to make an accurate assessment of the fracture.

Treatment and prognosis depend on the type of injury.

Initial stabilization of pelvic fractures by first responders at the scene, and later by staff in emergency departments, with pelvic binders and sheets has been shown to improve outcomes 6.

Simple pubic ramal fractures are treated by immobilization. Multipart acetabular fractures require reconstruction by an experienced operator. Complex pelvic ring fractures may require external fixation. In these patients, their prognosis is partly dependent on their comorbidities and other related injuries.

Pelvic fractures carry a significant mortality and morbidity. It has been reported that ~75% of pre-hospital deaths from motor vehicle collisions are secondary to pelvic fractures 3.


Article information

rID: 15002
Synonyms or Alternate Spellings:
  • Pelvic fracture

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Cases and figures

  • Figure 1: sites of avulsion fractures
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  • Case 1: acetabular fracture
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  • Figure 2
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  • Case 2: open book
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  • Case 3: Malgaigne fracture
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  • Case 4: right iliac crest avulsion fracture
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  • Case 5: combined mechanical
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  • Case 6: windswept pelvis
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  • Case 7
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  • Case 8
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