Reconstruction of segmental bone defects due to chronic osteomyelitis with use of an external fixator and an intramedullary nail

J Bone Joint Surg Am. 2006 Oct;88(10):2137-45. doi: 10.2106/JBJS.E.01152.


Background: Callus distraction over an intramedullary nail is a rarely used technique for the reconstruction of intercalary defects of the femur and tibia after radical débridement of chronic osteomyelitic foci. The aim of this study was to summarize our experience with distraction osteogenesis performed with an external fixator combined with an intramedullary nail for the treatment of bone defects and limb-shortening resulting from radical débridement of chronic osteomyelitis.

Methods: Thirteen patients who ranged in age from eighteen to sixty-three years underwent radical débridement to treat a nonunion associated with chronic osteomyelitis of the tibia (seven patients) and femur (six patients). The lesions were classified, according to the Cierny-Mader classification system, as type IVA (nine) and type IVB (four). The resulting segmental defects and any limb-length discrepancy were then reconstructed with use of distraction osteogenesis over an intramedullary nail. Two patients required a local gastrocnemius flap. Free nonvascularized fibular grafts were added to the distraction site for augmentation of a femoral defect at the time of external fixator removal and locking of the nail in two patients. At the time of the latest follow-up, functional and radiographic results were evaluated with use of the criteria of Paley et al.

Results: The mean size of the defect was 10 cm (range, 6 to 13 cm) in the femur and 7 cm (range, 5 to 10 cm) in the tibia. The mean external fixator index was 13.5 days per centimeter, the consolidation index was 31.7 days/cm, and the mean time to union at the docking site was nine months (range, five to sixteen months). At a mean follow-up of 47.3 months, eleven of the thirteen patients had an excellent result in terms of both bone and functional assessment. There were two recurrences of infection necessitating nail removal. These patients underwent revision with an Ilizarov fixator. Subsequently, the infection was controlled and the nonunions healed.

Conclusions: This combined method may prove to be an improvement on the classic techniques for the treatment of a nonunion of a long bone associated with chronic osteomyelitis, in terms of external fixation period and consolidation index. The earlier removal of the external fixator is associated with increased patient comfort, a decreased complication rate, and a convenient and rapid rehabilitation.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Bone Nails*
  • Chronic Disease
  • Cohort Studies
  • Debridement / adverse effects*
  • External Fixators*
  • Female
  • Femur
  • Humans
  • Leg Length Inequality / etiology
  • Leg Length Inequality / surgery*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Osteogenesis, Distraction / instrumentation*
  • Osteogenesis, Distraction / methods
  • Osteomyelitis / surgery*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Tibia
  • Treatment Outcome