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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Fatigue behavior of Ilizarov frame versus tibial interlocking nail in a comminuted tibial fracture model: a biomechanical study

Erik Hasenboehler1, Wade R Smith1*, Laurence Laudicina12, Giby C Philips1, Philip F Stahel1 and Steven J Morgan1

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, Denver Health Medical Center, University of Colorado School of Medicine, 777 Bannock Street, Denver, CO 80204, USA

2 Florida Sports Medicine Institute, 150 South Park Blvd., Suite 102, St. Augustine, FL 32086, USA

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Journal of Orthopaedic Surgery and Research 2006, 1:16  doi:10.1186/1749-799X-1-16

Published: 11 December 2006



Treatment options for comminuted tibial shaft fractures include plating, intramedullary nailing, and external fixation. No biomechanical comparison between an interlocking tibia nail with external fixation by an Ilizarov frame has been reported to date. In the present study, we compared the fatigue behaviour of Ilizarov frames to interlocking intramedullary nails in a comminuted tibial fracture model under a combined loading of axial compression, bending and torsion. Our goal was to determine the biomechanical characteristics, stability and durability for each device over a clinically relevant three month testing period. The study hypothesis was that differences in the mechanical properties may account for differing clinical results and provide information applicable to clinical decision making for comminuted tibia shaft fractures.


In this biomechanical study, 12 composite tibial bone models with a comminuted fracture and a 25 mm diaphyseal gap were investigated. Of these, six models were stabilized with a 180-mm four-ring Ilizarov frame, and six models were minimally reamed and stabilized with a 10 mm statically locked Russell-Taylor Delta™ tibial nail. After measuring the pre-fatigue axial compression bending and torsion stiffness, each model was loaded under a sinusoidal cyclic combined loading of axial compression (2.8/28 lbf; 12.46/124.6 N) and torque (1.7/17 lbf-in; 0.19/1.92 Nm) at a frequency of 3 Hz. The test was performed until failure (implant breakage or ≥ 5° angulations and/or 2 cm shortening) occurred or until 252,000 cycles were completed, which corresponds to approximately three months testing period.


In all 12 models, both the Ilizarov frame and the interlocking tibia nail were able to maintain fracture stability of the tibial defect and to complete the full 252,000 cycles during the entire study period of three months. A significantly higher stiffness to axial compression and torsion was demonstrated by the tibial interlocking nail model, while the Ilizarov frame provided a significantly increased range of axial micromotion.


This is the first study, to our knowledge, which compares the biomechanical properties of an intramedullary nail to an external Ilizarov frame to cyclic axial loading and torsion in a comminuted tibia shaft fracture model. Prospective, randomized trials comparing Ilizarov frames and interlocked tibial nails are needed to clarify the clinical impact of these biomechanical findings.