Give me a break: Gerhard Küntscher and his nail

Claus A. Pierach

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


The treatment of broken bones has long adhered to principles of tight juxtaposition of fracture ends and of strict rest. Splinting and casting with plaster of Paris helped considerably. Attempts at internal splinting with pegs, bolts, or stabilizing contraptions usually failed. Foreign materials were either not biocompatible or broke easily, and the insertion of these prostheses directly into the fracture created additional risks from infections. All this changed when Gerhard Küntscher (1900–1972) stabilized broken long bones by intramedullary insertion of stainless steel nails through a small incision, distant from the fracture. Küntscher employed his method from the late 1930s on, initially as a surgeon at the Kiel University in Germany. His early and encouraging results were rejected when presented in 1940, and he remained ostracized thenceforth. During WWII he was stationed in Finland, where he treated wounded soldiers from both sides of the front. POWs returning home propagated the new method by revealing these rods in roentgenograms of their legs; had he not been so successful in treating POWs, he might have had to stand trial at the Nuremberg Doctors’ Trial (1947). He documented his experiments and experiences in more than 200 articles and three monographs. Today, his method is employed universally.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)361-373
Number of pages13
JournalPerspectives in Biology and Medicine
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jan 1 2015

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