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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Improved healing response in delayed unions of the tibia with low-intensity pulsed ultrasound: results of a randomized sham-controlled trial

Markus D Schofer1, Jon E Block2*, Julia Aigner3 and Andreas Schmelz3

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Orthopaedics, University Hospital Marburg, Baldingerstrasse, 35043 Marburg, Germany

2 2210 Jackson Street, Suite 401, San Francisco, CA 94115, USA

3 Department of Trauma, Hand, and Reconstructive Surgery, University of Ulm, Steinhövelstrasse 9, 89075 Ulm, Germany

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BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders 2010, 11:229  doi:10.1186/1471-2474-11-229

Published: 8 October 2010

Abstract

Background

We compared the healing response of tibial delayed unions between subjects treated with low-intensity pulsed ultrasound (LIPUS) (n = 51) and subjects treated with a sham device (n = 50). Fracture age was ≥ 4 months in all cases. Study personnel and participants were blinded to random treatment assignment throughout the study.

Methods

This multi-center randomized sham-controlled trial was undertaken at six hospitals in Germany. Adult patients who had sustained a tibial shaft fracture that subsequently showed inadequate progress toward healing (i.e., delayed union) were enrolled and randomized to receive either LIPUS (Exogen 2000/2000+, Smith & Nephew GmbH, Schenefeld, Germany) or an identical nonoperative sham device. The daily treatment duration was 20 minutes, for a period of 16 weeks. Subjects randomly assigned to active treatment had the ultrasound pressure wave signal set at the following parameters: 1.5 MHz frequency, 1 kHz repetition rate, 200 μs pulse duration, 30 mW/cm2 spatial intensity. Progress toward healing was estimated from changes in bone mineral density (BMD) and gap area as determined from computed tomography scans. Intention-to-treat analysis was conducted using a multiple imputation methodology.

Results

Based on log-transformed data, mean improvement in BMD was 1.34 (90% confidence interval (CI) 1.14 to 1.57) times greater for LIPUS-treated subjects compared to sham (p = 0.002). A mean reduction in bone gap area also favored LIPUS treatment (p = 0.014).

Conclusions

These findings demonstrate significantly greater progress toward bone healing after LIPUS treatment compared to no LIPUS treatment in subjects with established delayed unions of the tibia.