Influence of size and stability of the osteotomy gap on the success of fracture healing



Flexible fixation of fractures with minimally invasive surgical techniques has become increasingly popular. Such techniques can lead to relatively large fracture gaps (larger than 5 mm) and considerable interfragmentary movements (0.2-5 mm). We investigated the influence of the size of the fracture gap, interfragmentary movement, and interfragmentary strain on the quality of fracture healing. A simple diaphyseal long-bone fracture was modeled by means of a transverse osteotomy of the right metatarsus in sheep. In 42 Sheep, the metatarsus was stabilized with a custom-made external ring fixator that was adjustable for gap size and axial interfragmentary movement. The sheep were randomly divided into six groups with three different gap sizes (1, 2, or 6 mm) and small or large interfragmentary strain (approximately 7 or 31%). The movement of the fracture gap was monitored telemetrically by a displacement transducer attached to the fixator. After 9 weeks of healing, the explanted metatarsus was evaluated mechanically in a three-point bending test to determine bending, stiffness and was radiographed to measure the amount of periosteal callus formation. Increased size of the gap (from 1 to 6 mm) resulted in a significant reduction in the bending stiffness of the healed bones. Larger interfragmentary movements and strains (31 compared with 7%) stimulated larger callus formation for small gaps (1-2 mm) but not for larger gaps (approximately 6 mm). The treatment of simple diaphyseal fractures with flexible fixation can be improved by careful reduction of the fracture; this prevents large interfragmentary gaps. The experimental fracture model for the metatarsus showed that the healing process was inferior when the gap was larger than 2 mm.