OBJECTIVE: Determine if laparotomy further destabilizes an unstable pelvic injury and increases pelvic volume, and if reduction and stabilization restores pelvic volume and prevents volume changes secondary to laparotomy. DESIGN: Cadaveric pelvic fracture model. MATERIALS AND METHODS: Unilateral open-book pelvic ring injuries were created in five fresh cadaveric specimens by directly disrupting the pubic symphysis, left sacroliac joint, and sacrospinous and sacrotuberous ligaments. Pelvic volume was determined using computerized axial tomography for the intact pelvis, disrupted pelvis with both a laparotomy incision opened and closed, and disrupted pelvis stabilized and reduced using an external fixator with the laparotomy incision opened. MEASUREMENTS AND MAIN RESULTS: The average volume increase in the entire pelvis (from the top of the iliac crests to the bottom of the ischial tuberosities) between a nonstabilized injury with the abdomen closed and then subsequently opened was 15 +/- 5% (423 cc). The average increase in entire pelvic volume between a stabilized and reduced pelvis and nonstabilized pelvis, both with the abdomen open, was 26 +/- 5% (692 cc). The public diastasis increased from 3.9 to 9.3 cm in a nonstabilized pelvis with the abdomen closed and then subsequently opened. Application of a single-pin anterior-frame external fixator reduced the pubic diastasis anatomically and reduced the average entire and true (from the pelvic brim to the ischeal tuberosities) pelvic volumes to within 3 +/- 4 and 8 +/- 6% of the initial volume, respectively. CONCLUSIONS: We believe that the abdominal wall provides stability to an unstable pelvic ring injury via a tension band effect on the iliac wings. Our results demonstrate that a laparotomy further destabilized an open-book pelvic injury and subsequently increased pelvic volume and pubic diastasis. This could potentially increase blood loss from the pelvic injury and delay the tamponade effect of reduction and stabilization. A single-pin external fixator prevents the destabilizing effect of the laparotomy and effectively reduces pelvic volume. These data support reduction and temporary stabilization of unstable pelvic injuries before or concomitantly with laparotomy.
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