Introduction. The Ilizarov technique has become an established method in the treatment of children with serious skeletal disorders. Whilst the technique is acknowledged for solving difficult conditions, the application of the external fixator marks the beginning of an arduous treatment programme. Research has suggested that undergoing such treatment can negatively impact upon the physical and psychological well-being of the young person. Yet limitations in research design reduce the usefulness of the findings, given in that most of the previous studies have used retrospective, quantitative data collection approaches, often with a heterogeneous sample population. We wished to gain a richer insight into the experiences of adolescents living with the frame by drawing on both qualitative and quantitative approaches.
Aims. To explore adolescents’ perceptions of the anticipated and actual impact of the Ilizarov frame on aspects of daily activity.
Design. A mixed-method approach, using a prospective and longitudinal study design.
Method. Fifteen adolescents undergoing the Ilizarov treatment were contacted at several predetermined time-points during the course of their treatment to share their perceptions of living with the frame. At several of these points semi-structured interviews were used to ascertain their perceptions, whilst quantitative data were gained at all time-points by adolescents completing a range of psychometric measures.
Findings. Adolescents found that life with the frame was not as bad as anticipated, and they adopted a pragmatic approach, appreciating that this was something they ‘just had to get through’. Peers had a substantial role in supporting their friend to adjust and cope with the frame. Psychometric scores were largely within normal limits.
Conclusion. This study suggests that, while the Ilizarov treatment is demanding for adolescents, it is one that they can tolerate without sustained adverse psychological impact.