Damage control orthopaedics in the context of battlefield injuries: the use of temporary external fixation on combat trauma soldiers

Orthop Traumatol Surg Res. 2011 Dec;97(8):852-9. doi: 10.1016/j.otsr.2011.05.014. Epub 2011 Oct 29.


Introduction: The purpose of this study was to analyze the use of temporary external fixation within the perspective of a damage control orthopedics attitude in the management of battlefield extremity injuries.

Hypothesis: Damage control orthopaedics (DCO) is a valuable treatment option for easy and rapid limb fracture stabilization in an unfavorable surgical environment.

Methods: Sixteen French soldiers wounded on the battlefield between 2004 and 2009 and managed by damage control orthopedics were included in this retrospective series. All patients were males with a mean age of 30 years (20-53 years). Eighteen external fixators were applied on the theater of operations for multiple injuries (five cases), closed fractures of the pelvis or long bones (three cases) and open osteoarticular lesions (ten cases).

Results: After medical evacuation from original theater, conversion to internal fixation was possible in five cases. External fixation was maintained in thirteen cases due to the severity of the lesions or infectious complications. Bone union was achieved in all cases. The mean time for bone union was 2.8 months (2 to 3 months) in case of conversion to internal fixation, and 6.3 months (1.5 to 17 months) when external fixation was extended. To achieve bone union, three devices were removed after a three or four month period and converted to rigid internal fixation associated with bone grafting. No case of septic complication was observed after early conversion. The only case of post-conversion infection occurred after three months of external fixation. After a mean follow-up of 19 months (6 to 49 months) all patients recovered functional autonomy and thirteen could return to duty.

Conclusion: When possible, early conversion from external to internal fixation improves bone union and functional recovery after war limb injuries in properly selected patients.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • External Fixators*
  • Extremities / injuries*
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Fracture Fixation / instrumentation*
  • Fracture Healing
  • Fractures, Bone / diagnosis
  • Fractures, Bone / surgery*
  • France
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Military Personnel*
  • Multiple Trauma / diagnosis
  • Multiple Trauma / surgery*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Trauma Severity Indices
  • Warfare
  • Young Adult