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BACKGROUND: Nonoperative fracture treatment has been used for millennia, but there has been no demographic study of its use for half a century. In the last 50 to 60 years, there has been an increased interest in operative fracture fixation and in many specialized Trauma hospitals nonoperative management is less frequently used. However, these specialized hospitals do not reflect fracture treatment in the whole community, and we have undertaken a study to investigate the current prevalence of nonoperative fracture treatment. METHODS: A retrospective analysis of 7,863 consecutive fractures in a defined population was undertaken. The use of nonoperative management in different fractures was assessed as was the influence of fracture severity, mode of injury, multiple fractures and social deprivation in the choice of treatment. A comparison of current treatment with that of the 1940s and 1950s was undertaken. RESULTS: The prevalence of nonoperative treatment was 74.6% with 91.6% of children and 67.6% of adults being treated nonoperatively. There were significant differences in upper and lower limb fractures in both children and adults. The major determinant of nonoperative management was age, although the severity of fracture, mode of injury, and presence of multiple fractures were also important. Social deprivation was not a significant factor except in adult metacarpal fractures. CONCLUSIONS: Nonoperative treatment remains the most widely used method of fracture management. Its prevalence decreases with age, particularly in lower limb fractures. In children, there is a bimodal operative treatment distribution and an increasing prevalence of operative treatment. In some adult fractures, the prevalence of surgery is increasing, but in others, we operate no more frequently than in the 1950s, despite improved operative techniques.

Original publication




Journal article


J trauma

Publication Date





699 - 707


Adolescent, Adult, Age Factors, Aged, 80 and over, Arm Injuries, Chi-Square Distribution, Child, Child, Preschool, Female, Fracture Fixation, Fractures, Bone, Humans, Leg Injuries, Logistic Models, Male, Multiple Trauma, Prevalence, Retrospective Studies, Scotland