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What Are External Fixators?

Fixators are hardware used to hold broken bones together. Unlike internal fixation—pins, plates, screws and others—with external fixation part of the structure that supports the bone is outside the skin.

How External Fixators Are Applied

External fixation is minimally invasive, but the procedure usually requires general anesthesia. First, the surgeon drills holes into undamaged portions of the fractured bone and installs bolts into the holes. These bolts are connected to rods that are attached to their other end to a frame outside the skin.

External Fixator Uses

X ray of an external fixation for wrist fracture

Some fractures are stabilized with external fixators if there is severe swelling at the injury site, which can make surgery dangerous, or if severe swelling is anticipated. In selected injuries external fixation frames may be used until the fracture is healed, which can take weeks to months.

External fixation is often used for patients who have skin conditions and lower healing ability, such as people with:

  • Diabetes
  • Peripheral vascular disease
  • Bone infection (osteomyelitis)

Advantages and Disadvantages of External Fixation

There are a number of benefits to using an external fixator vs. an internal fixator for fracture care:

  • Less chance of infection than internal fixators
  • Less damage to the fractured bone’s blood supply
  • More control over the area than noninvasive immobilization like slings and casts
  • More easily adjusted than internal fixators

There are some drawbacks, however, which include:

  • More maintenance and compliance is required
  • The frame is bulky and cumbersome
  • There is a chance of fracture at the hole sites once the rods are removed
  • Though the risk of infection is lower than with internal fixation, the risk is still present

If you are seeking treatment for a fracture, schedule an appointment with one of our specialists today. Our fracture care specialists can tell you if external fixation is right for you, and what to expect from external fixation of your fracture.

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