Prospective randomised comparison of ring versus rail fixator in infected gap nonunion of tibia treated with distraction osteogenesis

Bone Joint J. 2016 Oct;98-B(10):1399-1405. doi: 10.1302/0301-620X.98B10.37946.


Aims: This is a prospective randomised study which compares the radiological and functional outcomes of ring and rail fixators in patients with an infected gap (> 3 cm) nonunion of the tibia.

Patients and methods: Between May 2008 and February 2013, 70 patients were treated at our Institute for a posttraumatic osseocutaneous defect of the tibia measuring at least 3 cm. These were randomised into two groups of 35 patients using the lottery method. Group I patients were treated with a ring fixator and group II patients with a rail fixator. The mean age was 33.2 years (18 to 64) in group I and 29.3 years (18 to 65) in group II. The mean bone gap was 5.84 cm in group I and 5.78 cm in group II. The mean followup was 33.8 months in group I and 32.6 months in group II. Bone and functional results were assessed using the classification of the Association for the Study and Application of the Method of Ilizarov (ASAMI). Functional results were also assessed at six months using the short musculoskeletal functional assessment (SMFA) score.

Results: The bone result was excellent, good, fair and poor in 21, 12, 0 and 2 in group I; and 14, 15, 3, and 3 in group II, respectively. The functional results were excellent, good, fair, poor and failure in 16, 17, 1, 0 and 1 in group I; and 22, 10, 0, 3 and 0 in group II, respectively. Both fixator systems achieved comparable rates of union and functional outcomes. The rate of deep pintract infection was significantly higher in the rail fixator group but patients found it more comfortable.

Conclusion: We recommend the use of a ring fixator in patients with a bone gap of more than 6 cm. Patients with a bone gap up to 6 cm can be managed with either a ring or rail fixator. Cite this article: Bone Joint J 2016;98B:1399-1405.

Keywords: Distraction osteogenesis; Infected nonunion; Rail fixator; Ring fixator; Tibia.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Debridement / methods
  • External Fixators*
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Fracture Healing
  • Fractures, Ununited / complications
  • Fractures, Ununited / surgery*
  • Humans
  • Ilizarov Technique*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Osteogenesis, Distraction / methods*
  • Prospective Studies
  • Tibia / injuries
  • Tibia / surgery*
  • Tibial Fractures / complications
  • Tibial Fractures / surgery*
  • Time Factors
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Wound Infection / complications
  • Wound Infection / surgery*
  • Young Adult