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J Tissue Viability. 2002 Jul;12(3):108-12.

Deep skin slough following skin traction for hip fractures.

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  • 1Department of Orthopedic Surgery, The Sapir Medical Center, Kfar-Saba and Tel-Aviv Sourasky Medical School, Israel.



Elderly patients who fracture their hips are susceptible to complications associated with bed rest before surgery. In some institutions a skin traction device is used in order to relieve pain before surgery. The authors followed ten patients who developed severe (deep) skin slough and evaluated the relationship to the skin traction device. The need for use of a skin traction device is debated and the need for multidisciplinary treatment if this complication develops is emphasised.


All patients who had serious skin slough between January and December 2000 were evaluated. A serious skin slough was defined as any new and abrupt case of a full-thickness skin loss involving damage or necrosis of subcutaneous tissue, but not through the underlying fascia and not extending to underlying bone, tendon or joint capsule. Preoperative assessment including background illness and medications, the application of a skin traction device, the type of surgery that was performed, and complications were noted.


Ten patients (nine females and one male) aged 76-90 years met the criteria of serious skin slough. The leading chronic illness was cardiovascular. Among these patients there were intertrochanteric fractures (n = 5), subcapital fractures (n = 4) and a subtrochanteric fracture (n = 1). In all patients a skin traction device was used. In seven out of the ten patients the skin slough occurred during or immediately after surgery. Other postoperative complications included uncontrolled glucose levels (> 130 mg/dl during fasting) (two cases) and urinary tract infections (two cases). The skin slough was treated with a daily wound care regimen by a trained nurse and included daily changing of wet dressings and application of Vaseline gauze. All patients were allowed immediate ambulation after the surgery and were discharged 9-15 days after the surgery. Although improvement of the slough was noted in all patients, none of them had fully recovered, and they had to continue treatment in outpatient clinics.


The main goal of treatment in elderly patients who fractured their hips is to return them to their previous activities of daily living. A skin traction device, although useful for many of the patients, has the disadvantage of causing serious skin slough. This complication can interfere with the normal curve of rehabilitation and cause prolonged hospital stay. Whenever this complication is expected, the application of the skin traction device should be avoided. Moreover, careful handling of the patients by physicians, physiotherapists and nurses is mandatory. If this complication develops, vigorous multidisciplinary care is recommended.

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