A philosophy of limb salvage in war: use of the fixateur externe

Mil Med. 1991 Oct;156(10):505-20.


Over the period 1973-1983, we treated by external fixation 110 severe grade three open or complicated fractures caused in war (minimum follow-up, 7 years). We present our data analyzed according to method, location, and type of fracture. The methods we have evolved over the years are described in detail: primary wound stabilization by fixateur externe; primary radical wound excision, repeated every 48 hours as required, including excision of dead bone; delayed primary vascular soft tissue cover; delayed primary or secondary skeletal and soft tissue reconstruction as dictated by local wound conditions; prophylactic antibiotics and intensive physiotherapy to the joints and muscles of the injured limb and as rapid an ambulation of the patient as possible. The advantages and limitations of external fixation are enumerated. It is possible to avoid the complications of pin tract infection and ring necroses, but care is required to avoid refracture after removal of the apparatus, since the quality of bone healing is not always good with the use of external fixation. External fixation has greatly facilitated the various methods for achieving delayed primary vascular soft tissue cover over severe open fractures, bringing about an improved prognosis; micro-vascular techniques hold great promise for wound cover and skeletal reconstruction. Similarly, the Ilizarov method of bone osteotaxis has opened up new vistas in the treatment of bone mass loss. The latter requires a sophisticated set-up which will not be available in most war zones. In spite of the advances in treatment and in the improved results achieved by modern techniques of wound stabilization, wound soft tissue cover, and bone and soft tissue reconstructions, the temptation to try to salvage useless limbs must be resisted. Amputation, judiciously adjudged and correctly timed, remains one of the most successful forms of treatment in these severe injuries, saving the casualty from a physical and spiritual via dolorosa. Enthusiasm for surgical endeavor must be well tempered with mature judgment and realistic clinical acumen.

MeSH terms

  • Amputation
  • Arm Injuries / surgery*
  • Arm Injuries / therapy
  • External Fixators*
  • Fractures, Open / surgery*
  • Fractures, Open / therapy
  • Humans
  • Leg Injuries / surgery*
  • Leg Injuries / therapy
  • Male
  • Time Factors
  • Warfare*
  • Wound Infection / therapy