Gunshot-induced fractures of the extremities: A review of antibiotic and debridement practices

Vasanth Sathiyakumar, Rachel V. Thakore, Daniel J. Stinner, William T. Obremskey, James R. Ficke, Manish K. Sethi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations


The use of antibiotic prophylaxis and debridement is controversial when treating low- and high-velocity gunshot-induced fractures, and established treatment guidelines are currently unavailable. The purpose of this review was to evaluate the literature for the prophylactic antibiotic and debridement policies for (1) low-velocity gunshot fractures of the extremities, joints, and pelvis and (2) high-velocity gunshot fractures of the extremities. Low-velocity gunshot fractures of the extremities were subcategorized into operative and non-operative cases, whereas low-velocity gunshot fractures of the joints and pelvis were evaluated based on the presence or absence of concomitant bowel injury. In the absence of surgical necessity for fracture care such as concomitant absence of gross wound contamination, vascular injury, large soft-tissue defect, or associated compartment syndrome, the literature suggests that superficial debridement for low-velocity ballistic fractures with administration of antibiotics is a satisfactory alternative to extensive operative irrigation and debridement. In operative cases or those involving bowel injuries secondary to pelvic fractures, the literature provides support for and against extensive debridement but does suggest the use of intravenous antibiotics. For high-velocity ballistic injuries, the literature points towards the practice of extensive immediate debridement with prophylactic intravenous antibiotics. Our systematic review demonstrates weak evidence for superficial debridement of low-velocity ballistic fractures, extensive debridement for high-velocity ballistic injuries, and antibiotic use for both types of injury. Intra-articular fractures seem to warrant debridement, while pelvic fractures with bowel injury have conflicting evidence for debridement but stronger evidence for antibiotic use. Given a relatively low number of studies on this subject, we recommend that further high-quality research on the debridement and antibiotic use for gunshot-induced fractures of the extremities should be conducted before definitive recommendations and guidelines are developed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)276-289
Number of pages14
JournalCurrent Reviews in Musculoskeletal Medicine
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 28 2015


  • Antibiotic
  • Debridement
  • Fracture of extremity
  • Gunshot wound

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine


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