New treatment 'avoids surgery on fractures that won't join up'

Last Updated : 04 May 2018, 02:18 IST

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People suffering from stubborn bone fractures once faced a stark choice -- have painful surgery, followed by months of rehabilitation, or face a possible lifetime of pain and immobility.

Now, a non-invasive treatment using ultrasound shockwaves is revolutionising the way these breaks are healed.

In most cases fractures heal naturally, usually with the help of a splint or cast to keep the bone in place, over a period of weeks or months. But, in few cases, a gap remains between the two broken ends, usually a result of damage to the blood supply to the bones or infection.

These are called non-union fractures. In order for healing to occur, the gap needs to be filled in. Without intervention, patients will be in constant pain and unable to bear weight on limbs, say the doctors.

"Any break which hasn't demonstrated progressive healing for three months is classified as non-union," leading British newspaper 'Daily Mail' quoted Mark Phillips, senior orthopaedic consultant at King's College London as saying.The Exogen Ultrasound Bone Healing System is a battery-powered device roughly the size of a mobile phone that emits low intensity soundwaves through the skin to the fracture. These pulses stimulate the bone to heal.

"The ultrasound creates minute vibrations. This causes the bones to produce their own version of bone morphogenetic protein. It's like switching on a light and waking up the damaged edges of the fracture," said Dr Phillips.

The device must be used for 20 minutes each day by the patient at home and it takes around six weeks until results can be seen on X-rays. The treatment is painless and has no known side effects.

Clinical studies have put Exogen's success rate at 86 percent though Phillips says it is not a miracle cure for all. "There are limitations. Any gap larger than half an inch will usually require surgical intervention," he said.

Published 26 June 2011, 06:42 IST

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