The influence of distal screw length on the primary stability of volar plate osteosynthesis-a biomechanical study

Sebastian F. Baumbach*, Alexander Synek, Hannes Traxler, Wolf Mutschler, Dieter Pahr, Yan Chevalier

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Journal article (peer-reviewed)Journal article

24 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Extensor tendon irritation is one of the most common complications following volar locking plate osteosynthesis (VLPO) for distal radius fractures. It is most likely caused by distal screws protruding the dorsal cortex. Shorter distal screws could avoid this, yet the influence of distal screw length on the primary stability in VLPO is unknown. The aim of this study was to compare 75 to 100 % distal screw lengths in VLPO. Methods: A biomechanical study was conducted on 11 paired fresh-frozen radii. HRpQCT scans were performed to assess bone mineral density (BMD) and bone mineral content (BMC). The specimens were randomized pair-wise into two groups: 100 % (group A) and 75 % (group B) unicortical distal screw lengths. A validated fracture model for extra-articular distal radius fractures (AO-23 A3) was used. Polyaxial volar locking plates were mounted, and distal screws was inserted using a drill guide block. For group A, the distal screw tips were intended to be flush or just short of the dorsal cortex. In group B, a target screw length of 75 % was calculated. The specimens were tested to failure using a displacement-controlled axial compression test. Primary biomechanical stability was assessed by stiffness, elastic limit, and maximum force as well as with residual tilt, which quantified plastic deformation. Results: Nine specimens were tested successfully. BMD and BMC did not differ between the two groups. The mean distal screw length of group A was 21.7 ± 2.6 mm (range: 16 to 26 mm), for group B 16.9 ± 1.9 mm (range: 12 to 20 mm). Distal screws in group B were on average 5.6 ± 0.9 mm (range: 3 to 7 mm) shorter than measured. No significant differences were found for stiffness (706 ± 103 N/mm vs. 660 ± 124 N/mm), elastic limit (177 ± 25 N vs. 167 ± 36 N), maximum force (493 ± 139 N vs. 471 ± 149 N), or residual tilt (7.3° ± 0.7° vs. 7.1° ± 1.3°). Conclusion: The 75 % distal screw length in VLPO provides similar primary stability to 100 % unicortical screw length. This study, for the first time, provides the biomechanical basis to choose distal screws significantly shorter then measured.

Original languageEnglish
Article number139
JournalJournal of Orthopaedic Surgery and Research
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 08 Sept 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Biomechanics
  • Colles' fracture
  • Distal radius fracture
  • Fracture
  • Polyaxial volar locking plates
  • Screw length
  • Volar plate osteosynthesis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine


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