BACKGROUND: Popliteal artery injury is uncommon but poses a significant challenge in Australian trauma care. Blunt trauma and knee dislocations appear to be associated with higher amputation rates. The aim of the present study was to review the authors' experience with this condition and discuss the best approach to investigation and management.
METHODS: The medical records of all patients with popliteal artery injury (n = 19) who were entered prospectively onto the Royal Perth Hospital Trauma Registry from 1995 to 2003 were reviewed. Their demographic data, investigations, primary operative procedures, fasciotomy, primary and secondary amputation rates and mortality were determined.
RESULTS: There were 17 male and two female patients with a median age of 34 years (range 17-62 years). Most patients (84%) were under 40 years in age. Blunt trauma was the commonest cause of popliteal artery injury (68.4%), and 84.6% of the patients had associated skeletal injury. The amputation rate in the present study was 26.3% (5/19). There were no intraoperative or in-hospital deaths. Three of 13 patients (23%) with blunt trauma underwent amputation, compared to two of six (33.3%) with penetrating injury. Two of three amputee patients in the blunt trauma group had dislocated knees.
CONCLUSION: Despite technical improvements in management of popliteal artery injury, a high amputation rate is still seen, especially in patients with one or more of the following factors: extensive soft-issue injury, associated skeletal trauma, knee dislocation, and prolonged ischaemia time. Measures to reduce the amputation rate, ranging from more prompt diagnosis to modified surgical treatment techniques, are discussed.