Fracture healing requires a certain degree of mechanical stability and an adequate blood supply. The hypothesis of the present study was that increased interfragmentary shear leads to a reduced initial vascularization and prolonged healing. The aim of the study was to quantitatively analyze the histological appearance of vascularization and tissue differentiation with regard to fracture stability during the course of healing.
A mid-shaft osteotomy of the tibia was performed in two groups of sheep and stabilized with either a rigid or semirigid external fixator, differing in bending stiffness. Interfragmentary movements and ground reaction forces were evaluated in vivo during a 9week period. The sheep were sacrificed at 2, 3, 6, and 9 weeks postoperatively. The tibiae were tested biomechanically and histological sections from the callus were prepared for analysis of tissue differentiation and vascularization.
Larger interfragmentary shear movements in the semirigid fixator group were associated with a reduced initial blood supply. At 6 weeks the semirigid fixator group showed a significantly lower percentage of mineralized bone and a higher amount of fibrous tissue leading to a significantly lower stiffness of the callus than the rigid fixator group. This initial delay in healing was compensated for in the later stages with the production of greater volumes of callus tissue so that both groups showed the same callus stiffness at 9 weeks. However, the rigid fixator group showed signs of the beginning of callus remodeling at the latest time points suggesting a faster bone healing. The results indicate the important role of the initial mechanical stability specifically in the vascularization of an osteosynthesis. Further studies should illustrate the precise role of mechanical conditions on the regulation of angiogenesis during early bone healing. © 2004 Orthopaedic Research Society. Published by Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.