Background: The Ilizarov method and fixator are clinically recognised for the treatment of fractures, limb salvage and deformity correction. There have been extensive studies determining the basic mechanism for fracture healing using this technique. It is generally accepted that circular frames optimise the mechanical environment by reducing shear strain across the fracture while maintaining axial micromotion so as to promote fracture healing. There have been several new hexapod-type frames introduced into the market over the past 20 years with little comparative research into their biomechanical properties and resultant effects on the fracture environment.
Questions/purposes: To investigate the biomechanical behaviours of the TrueLok-Hex (TL-HEX) and Taylor spatial frame (TSF) hexapod-type circular external fixators with comparison to traditional Ilizarov-type (TL-Ilizarov and TSF-Ilizarov) constructs and potential performance in vivo.
Methods: Testing was performed on standardised four-ring TSF and TL-HEX constructs matched by identical frames using Ilizarov threaded rod constructs for each set of components. All frames were tested under physiological levels of axial, bending and torsional loading. Load-deformation properties for each construct under each mode of loading were calculated and analysed statistically using ANOVA.
Results: Under axial loading, the Ilizarov construct utilising TL-HEX components demonstrated the greatest rigidity followed by the Ilizarov construct using TSF components. Under bending loads, the difference in rigidity between constructs was similar but less marked. Under torsional loading, both hexapod frames were seen to be significantly more rigid than the Ilizarov constructs. Overall deformation around neutral loading was much higher in the TSF frame due to an observed significant “toe-in” laxity in the strut universal joints. The remaining deformation of both hexapod frames was similar with a higher level of TL-HEX rigidity in axial loading and a higher level of TSF rigidity in bending and torsion.
Conclusion: In conclusion, both hexapod frame constructs were less rigid under axial loading but more rigid under bending and torsional loads than their comparative Ilizarov constructs. As a result of their Cardan universal joints, the TSF demonstrated greater overall planar strain due to the observed “toe-in” laxity around neutral loading while the TL-HEX, with ball-and-socket universal joints, demonstrated a minimal level of laxity. Beyond the initial deformation due to the preloaded laxity, both hexapod frames responded to loading in a similar manner. There were significant differences in the frames’ mechanical behaviour under different loading conditions but further research is required to determine whether these translate in vivo into clinical significance.
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