Civilian Ballistic Arthrotomies: Infection Rates and Operative Versus Nonoperative Management

Charles Liu, Mahesh Kumar, Andy Liu, Mary Kate Erdman, Anthony Christiano, Adam Lee, Kelly Hynes, Jason Strelzow

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


OBJECTIVES: The purpose of this study was to determine whether a significant difference existed in the rate of infection after ballistic traumatic arthrotomy managed operatively compared with those managed without surgery. METHODS: Design: Retrospective cohort study. Setting: Academic Level I Trauma Center. Patient Selection Criteria: Patients with ballistic traumatic arthrotomies of the shoulder, elbow, wrist, hip, knee, or ankle who received operative or nonoperative management. Outcome Measures and Comparisons: The rates of infection and septic arthritis in those who received operative or nonoperative management. RESULTS: One hundred ninety-five patients were studied. Eighty patients were treated nonoperatively (Non-Op group), 16 patients were treated with formal irrigation and debridement in the operating room (I&D group), and 99 patients were treated with formal I&D and open reduction and internal fixation (ORIF) (I&D + ORIF group). Patients in all 3 groups received local wound care and systemic antibiotics. No patients in the Non-Op or I&D group developed an infection. Six patients in the I&D + ORIF group developed extra-articular postoperative infections requiring additional interventions. CONCLUSIONS: The infection rate in the I&D + ORIF group was consistent with the infection rates reported in orthopaedic literature after fixation alone. In addition, none of the infections were cases of septic arthritis. This suggests that traumatic arthrotomy does not increase the risk for infection beyond what is expected after fixation alone. Importantly, the Non-Op group represented a series of 80 patients who were treated nonoperatively without developing an infection, indicating that I&D may not be necessary to prevent infection after ballistic arthrotomy. The results suggest that septic arthritis after civilian ballistic arthrotomy is a rare complication regardless of the choice of treatment.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)102-108
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Orthopaedic Trauma
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1 Feb 2024
Externally publishedYes


  • ballistic arthrotomy
  • irrigation and debridement
  • non-operative management
  • septic arthritis
  • traumatic arthrotomy


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