The management of hand and wrist nonunions is challenging and alternatives or adjuncts to surgery to promote healing are an attractive prospect. Low-intensity pulsed ultrasound (LIPUS) is reported to improve bone healing and is supported for use in nonunions. However, evidence supporting its use for established nonunions is based largely on long bones, with little evidence guiding use in the hand and wrist. The objective of this study is to present our experience using LIPUS in established nonunions of the hand and wrist. This is a retrospective cohort study of hand and wrist nonunions managed with LIPUS in two UK tertiary referral centers. Nonunion was defined as the failure of fracture healing at a minimum of 9 months post injury. Demographic and clinical data including nonunion site, union rates, surgery and time from surgery to LIPUS application were obtained from electronic patient and LIPUS device records. Patients were subcategorized into early or delayed LIPUS applications groups. Twenty-six hand and wrist nonunions were treated with LIPUS alone or as a surgical adjunct. The overall union rate was 62%. Age, sex, fracture characteristics and previous treatment had no significant effect on union rates. There was no association between LIPUS timing and union following adjustment for co-variates. Our findings suggest previously quoted union rates using LIPUS for lower limb nonunions may not be achievable in the hand and wrist. However, LIPUS offers a safe adjunct to surgery and may offer a potential alternative when surgery is not feasible. Further prospective comparative studies are required before the efficacy of LIPUS for hand and wrist nonunions is proven.
Keywords: LIPUS; Nonunion; low intensity pulsed ultrasound.