Type of Surgery

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Last updated: 11/24/2009

Aftercare

After the operation, nursing staff teach patients how to clean and care for the skin around the pins that attach the external fixator to the limb (pinsite care). Patients are also shown how to recognize and treat early signs of infection and not to...

neglect pinsite care, which takes about 30 minutes every day until the apparatus is removed. It is very important in preventing infection from developing.

After an epiphysiodesis procedure, hospitalization is required for about a week. Occasionally, a cast is placed on the operated leg for some three to four weeks. Healing usually requires from eight to 12 weeks, at which time full activities can be resumed.

In the case of leg shortening surgery, two to three weeks of hospitalization is common. Occasionally, a cast is placed on the leg for three to four weeks. Muscle weakness is common, and muscle-strengthening therapy is started as soon as tolerated after surgery. Crutches are required for six to eight weeks. Some patients may require from six to 12 months to regain normal knee control and function. The intramedullary rod is usually removed after a year.

In the case of leg lengthening surgery, hospitalization may require a week or longer. Intensive physical therapy is required to maintain a normal range of leg motion. Frequent visits to the treating physician are also required to adjust the external fixator and attentive care of the pins holding the device is essential to prevent infection. Healing time depends on the extent of lengthening. A rule of thumb is that each 0.4 in (1 cm) of lengthening requires some 36 days of healing. A large variety of external fixators are now available for use. Today's fixators are very durable, and are generally capable of holding full weight. Most patients can continue many normal activities during the three to six months the device is worn.

Metal pins, screws, staples, rods, or plates are used in leg lengthening/shortening surgery to stabilize bone during healing. Most orthopedic surgeons prefer to plan to remove any large metal implants after several months to a year. Removal of implanted metal devices requires another surgical procedure under general anesthesia.

During the recovery period, physical therapy plays a very important role in keeping the patient's joints flexible and in maintaining muscle strength. Patients are advised to eat a nutritious diet and to take calcium supplements. To speed up the bone healing process, gradual weight-bearing is encouraged. Patients are usually provided with an external system that stimulates bone growth at the site, either an ultrasound device or one that creates a painless electromagnetic field.



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These twin sisters are undergoing leg lengthening treatment. Their mother turns bolts on the external fixators of the leg to increase the distance between the two parts of the the surgically broken bone 1 millimeter a day. (Custom Medical Stock Photo. Reproduced by permission.) These twin sisters are undergoing leg lengthening treatment. Their mother turns bolts on the external fixators of the leg to increase the distance between the two parts of the the surgically broken bone 1 millimeter a day. (Custom Medical Stock Photo. Reproduced by permission.)




To lengthen a leg surgically, an incision is made in the leg to access the femur (A). A surgical drill is used to weaken the femur so the surgeon can break it. During the operation, screws are drilled into the bone on both sides of the break, and an external fixator is applied (B). The gap between the two pieces of bone is increased gradually (C), so new bone growth results in a longer leg (D). (Illustration by GGS Inc.) To lengthen a leg surgically, an incision is made in the leg to access the femur (A). A surgical drill is used to weaken the femur so the surgeon can break it. During the operation, screws are drilled into the bone on both sides of the break, and an external fixator is applied (B). The gap between the two pieces of bone is increased gradually (C), so new bone growth results in a longer leg (D). (Illustration by GGS Inc.)




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Other Information

Leg lengthening and shortening are types of surgery to treat children who have legs of unequal lengths, usually with differences of 1 inch or more.

These procedures may:

Lengthen an abnormally short leg

Shorten an abnormally long leg

Limit growth of a normal leg to allow a short leg to grow to a matching length

BONE LENGTHENING

Lengthening an abnormally short leg may be recommended for children whose bones are still growing. This series of treatments involves several surgical procedures, a lengthy convalescence period, and considerable risks -- but it can add up to 6 inches of length to a leg.

While the child is under general anesthesia, the bone to be lengthened is cut. Metal pins or screws are inserted through the skin and into the bone.

Pins are placed above and below the cut in the bone, and the skin incision is stitched closed.

A metal device (usually some sort of external frame) is attached to the pins in the bone and will be used later to gradually pull the cut bone apart, creating a space between the ends of the cut bone that will fill in with new bone. The lengthening device is used very gradually to ensure adequate filling of the bone and stretching of the soft tissues.

Later, when the leg has reached the desired length and has healed (usually after several months), another surgical procedure will be done to remove the pins.

Because the pins or screws are inserted through the skin into the bone, special care of the pin sites is important to prevent infection. Also, because the blood vessels, muscles, and skin are stretched with each lengthening, careful and frequent checking of the skin color, temperature, and sensation of the foot and toes is necessary to prevent circulatory, muscular, or nerve damage.

BONE SHORTENING

Shortening a longer leg may be recommended for children whose bones are no longer growing. This is a technically complicated surgery that can produce a very precise degree of correction.

While the child is under general anesthesia, the bone to be shortened is cut and a section of bone is removed. The ends of the cut bone will be joined and a metal plate with screws or a nail down the center of the bone is placed across the bone incision to hold it in place during healing.

Because the blood vessels, muscles, and skin are involved, careful and frequent checking of the skin color, temperature, and sensation of the foot and toes is necessary to prevent circulatory, muscular, or nerve damage.


From http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/002965.htm

Other Information

New procedures like minimally invasive procedures are often subject to scrutiny, but I think that one of the biggest problems facing these innovative procedures is for people to understand exactly what we do.


-Dr. Michael Perry, Laser Spine institute

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