Background An unstable slipped capital femoral epiphysis (SCFE) is associated with a high rate of avascular necrosis (AVN). The etiology of AVN seems to be multifactorial, although it is not thoroughly known. The aims of our study were to determine the rate of AVN after an unstable SCFE and to investigate the risk factors for AVN, specifically evaluating the notion of an “unsafe window”, during which medical interventions would increase the risk for AVN. Methods This retrospective multicenter study included 60 patients with an unstable SCFE diagnosed between 1985 and 2014. Timing of surgery was evaluated for three time periods, from acute onset of symptoms to surgery: period I, <24 h; period II, between 24 h and 7 days; and period III, >7 days. Multivariate logistic regression analysis was used to identify risk factors for AVN. Results Closed reduction and pinning was performed in 43 patients and in situ pinning in 17. Among these cases, 16 patients (27%) developed AVN. The rate of AVN was significantly higher in patients treated by closed reduction and pinning (15/43, 35%) than in those treated by in situ pinning (1/17, 5.9%) (p = 0.022). In patients treated by closed reduction and pinning, the incidence of AVN was 2/11 (18%) in period I, 10/13 (77%) in period II and 3/15 (20%) in period III, showing the significantly higher rate in period II (p = 0.002). The surgery provided in period II was identified as an independent risk factor for the development of AVN. Conclusions Our rate of AVN was 27% using two classical treatment methods. Time-to-surgery, between 24 h and 7 days, was independently associated with AVN, supporting the possible existence of an “unsafe window” in patients with unstable SCFE treated by closed reduction and pinning.
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