Intervention Review

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Pin site care for preventing infections associated with external bone fixators and pins

  1. Anne Lethaby1,*,
  2. Jenny Temple2,
  3. Julie Santy-Tomlinson3

Editorial Group: Cochrane Wounds Group

Published Online: 3 DEC 2013

Assessed as up-to-date: 5 SEP 2013

DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD004551.pub3

How to Cite

Lethaby A, Temple J, Santy-Tomlinson J. Pin site care for preventing infections associated with external bone fixators and pins. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2013, Issue 12. Art. No.: CD004551. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD004551.pub3.

Author Information

  1. 1

    University of Auckland, Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Auckland, New Zealand

  2. 2

    University of Plymouth, Faculty of Health & Social Work, Drake Circus, Plymouth, UK

  3. 3

    University of Hull, Faculty of Health & Social Care, Hull, East Yorkshire, UK

*Anne Lethaby, Obstetrics and Gynaecology, University of Auckland, Private Bag 92019, Auckland, 1142, New Zealand.

Publication History

  1. Publication Status: New search for studies and content updated (no change to conclusions)
  2. Published Online: 3 DEC 2013




  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Plain language summary


Metal pins are used to apply skeletal traction or external fixation devices in the management of orthopaedic fractures. These percutaneous pins protrude through the skin, and the way in which they are treated after insertion may affect the incidence of pin site infection. This review set out to summarise the evidence of pin site care on infection rates.


To assess the effect on infection rates of different methods of cleansing and dressing orthopaedic percutaneous pin sites.

Search methods

In September 2013, for this third update, we searched the Cochrane Wounds Group Specialised Register; The Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL) (The Cochrane Library); Ovid MEDLINE; Ovid MEDLINE (In-Process & Other Non-Indexed Citations); Ovid EMBASE; and EBSCO CINAHL.

Selection criteria

We evaluated all randomised controlled trials (RCTs) that compared the effect on infection and other complication rates of different methods of cleansing or dressing orthopaedic percutaneous pin sites.

Data collection and analysis

Two review authors independently assessed the citations retrieved by the search strategies for reports of relevant RCTs, then independently selected trials that satisfied the inclusion criteria, extracted data and undertook quality assessment.

Main results

A total of eleven trials (572 participants) were eligible for inclusion in the review but not all participants contributed data to each comparison. Three trials compared a cleansing regimen (saline, alcohol, hydrogen peroxide or antibacterial soap) with no cleansing (application of a dry dressing), three trials compared alternative sterile cleansing solutions (saline, alcohol, peroxide, povidone iodine), three trials compared methods of cleansing (one trial compared identical pin site care performed daily or weekly and the two others compared sterile with non sterile techniques), one trial compared daily pin site care with no care and six trials compared different dressings (using different solutions/ointments and dry and impregnated gauze or sponges). One small blinded study of 38 patients found that the risk of pin site infection was significantly reduced with polyhexamethylene biguanide (PHMB) gauze when compared to plain gauze (RR 0.23, 95% CI 0.12 to 0.44) (infection rate of 1% in the PHMB group and 4.5% in the control group) but this study was at high risk of bias as the unit of analysis was observations rather than patients. There were no other statistically significant differences between groups in any of the other trials.

Authors' conclusions

The available trial evidence was not extensive, was very heterogeneous and generally of poor quality, so there was insufficient evidence to be able to identify a strategy of pin site care that minimises infection rates. Adequately-powered randomised trials are required to examine the effects of different pin care regimens, and co-interventions - such as antibiotic use - and other extraneous factors must be controlled in the study designs.


Plain language summary

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Plain language summary

Methods of pin site care for reducing infection and complications associated with external bone fixators and pins

Metal pins are sometimes used to apply traction or to attach other external fixation devices into broken arms or legs. These pins pierce through the skin. The way they are cared for may affect the frequency of infection. Different solutions are used for cleaning around pins, different dressings can be used, scabs may or may not be removed and massage might be used to drain fluids around them. Few clinical trials have investigated this area, and they were of poor quality. As a result, this review found no strong evidence that one pin care technique was better than any other for reducing the chance of infection and other complications.