Clinical Orthopaedics and Related Research ®

A Publication of The Association of Bone and Joint Surgeons ®

Reamed Intramedullary Nailing has an Adverse Effect on Bone Regeneration During the Distraction Phase in Tibial Lengthening

Keun Jung Ryu MD, Bang Hyun Kim MD, Jin Ho Hwang MD, PhD, Hyun Woo Kim MD, PhD, Dong Hoon Lee MD, PhD



The lengthening over nail (LON) technique has gained popularity because it enables shorter periods of external fixation, prevents deformities during lengthening, and reduces the risk of refracture after removal of the frame compared with the classic Ilizarov method. However, it is not clear if the violation of endosteal blood supply by reamed intramedullary nailing in the LON technique has a negative effect on bone regeneration or a positive effect by compensatory enhancement of periosteal circulation.


The purposes of this study were to (1) compare the amount of regenerate bone during the distraction phase between two tibial lengthening techniques, the LON technique and lengthening and then nail (LATN) technique; and (2) compare callus shape at the end of the distraction phase using the classification of Li et al.


This is a retrospective study comparing two treatment groups. Between September 2011 and June 2013, 120 patients underwent bilateral lower leg lengthening for familial short stature with either the LON or LATN technique, and were considered potentially eligible for inclusion in this retrospective, comparative study. During this same period, LON and LATN techniques were used in other patient populations, but all patients with familial short stature were considered for inclusion in the study. The specific contraindications for LON were diameter of the isthmus of the tibia narrower than 8 mm, length of the tibia shorter than 270 mm, and alignment of the lower extremity in valgus; in patients without these specific contraindications to LON, patients were offered either LATN or LON after counseling regarding the advantages and disadvantages of each procedure. The proposed advantages of LATN were shorter healing index and more stable internal fixation which might lead to earlier full weightbearing, whereas proposed disadvantages were a greater chance for deep infection, more deformity during lengthening, and subsequently longer external fixator period for correction. The groups were comparable in terms of age, sex distribution, smoking history, BMI, distraction rate, and final length gain. A longer period of external fixation was necessary in the LATN group, related to the relative stability of the segment without an intramedullary nail. Patients with tibial lengthening with the LON technique (31 patients, 62 tibiae) were compared with patients who had the LATN technique (89 patients, 178 tibiae) regarding the amount of bone regeneration at the anterior, posterior, medial, and lateral cortices of the lengthened area for each at 4, 8, and 12 weeks postoperatively using a pixel value ratio method. In addition, both groups were compared for callus shape and type at the end of the distraction phase (LON, 3.4 ± 0.06 months; LATN, 4.2 ± 0.05 months).


The pixel value ratios of the anterior, posterior, medial, and lateral cortices in the LON and LATN groups were 0.78 ± 0.06 and 0.74 ± 0.05; 0.82 ± 0.08 and 0.76 ± 0.05; 0.75 ± 0.06 and 0.72 ± 0.05; and 0.85 ± 0.06 and 0.82 ± 0.06, respectively at 4 weeks postoperatively(p value > 0.500 for all); 0.75 ± 0.05 and 0.77 ± 0.04; 0.78 ± 0.05 and 0.89 ± 0.04; 0.73 ± 0.05 and 0.82 ± 0.05; and 0.78 ± 0.06 and 0.88 ± 0.03, respectively at 8 weeks postoperatively (p value < 0.001 for the posterior, medial, and lateral cortices); 0.72 ± 0.05 and 0.76 ± 0.03; 0.75 ± 0.07 and 0.89 ± 0.03; 0.71 ± 0.05 and 0.82 ± 0.03; and 0.78 ± 0.06 and 0.91 ± 0.03, respectively at 12 weeks postoperatively (p value < 0.001 for the posterior, medial, and lateral cortices). A greater percentage of tibiae having the generally favored fusiform-shaped callus were seen with the LATN technique (61 of 178 segments) than with the LON technique (four of 62 segments; p < 0.001). There were no tibia showing the inferior concave, lateral, or central-shaped callus with the LATN technique, whereas eight tibiae (eight of 62 segments) showed concave-shaped callus with the LON technique (p < 0.001).


The potentially negative effect on callus regeneration from the concomitant use of reamed intramedullary nailing during the LON technique should not be overlooked. Based on our study, LATN may be a better choice for patients willing to accept the longer period of external fixation.

Level of Evidence

Level III, therapeutic study.

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