What is the Ilizarov external fixator?

The Ilizarov external fixator is a device that is used for elongating bones. It is a tool that can also be used to stabilise fractures, correct deformities or allow bone to grow.

This image shows the Ilizarov device fitted to the lower leg.

How does this device work?

During the procedure the device is connected to the two ends of the bone, pulling it slowly and gradually and stimulating its growth. The device can be adjusted several times a day.

The natural healing process promotes the growth of new bone tissue, managing to elongate it by up to 1 mm per day. The duration of treatment may extend to several months and terminates once the new bone has became strong.

What is it like to wear this device?

It is only right and proper that parents and children should be made aware of what using an external fixator actually means. The patients, depending on the case, may have to wear the Ilizarov apparatus for as long as 4 or 5 months. The treatment requires a great deal of commitment in terms of time and effort, both on the part of parents and children alike.

To encourage healing, it is important to adhere strictly to the instructions below:

• it is important to clean the wire entry holes daily;

• the device must be adjusted 4 times a day using a technique called distraction.

What happens before a surgical procedure?

A child will undergo a preliminary examination in the pre-operative clinic in a Day Hospital.

Having been examined by the specialist, the child will be helped to prepare for the procedure by a qualified nurse who will also provide the parents with specific instructions on the preparation. The child is normally admitted the day before the surgical procedure.

What happens during the surgical procedure?

The procedure will take place under general anaesthesia. The Ilizarov device is attached to the child’s bones by means of some holes that will take the wires and pins. The procedure may take several hours.