Hospitals as well as 80% of urgent care centers are equipped to treat broken bones as well as minor fractures. While ultrasounds, a technology generally used for medical imaging, has been believed to actually speed up fracture treatments, a new study shows that the treatment may not be effective at all.
Fracture of the tibia, a bone in the lower leg, is the most common long bone fracture. A broken tibia is generally treated with surgery and the insertion of nails to help the bone heal and reunite properly. After surgery, the bone requires between three and six months to heal, but in some cases, it can take longer.
Since 1994, ultrasound has been an approved method of treatment for broken bones in North America. Low intensity pulsed ultrasound, or LIPUS, is often prescribed by doctors, during which the patient applies a special device on top of the skin, over the fracture site,for about 20 minutes daily.
LIPUS reportedly helped prevent non-union of the bones, therefore increasing the rate in which the patient healed.
Now, however, new report published in The BMJ (formerly The British Medical Journal), LIPUS shows no improvements to fractured bones.
A research team from McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario observed the healing processes of 501 medical patients who had experienced tibia fractures. The patients were randomly assigned to undergo either LIPUS or a placebo treatment.
From October 2008 to September 2012, the team observed these patients, and continued its research for the following year. The rate of non-union did not differ between the LIPUS and placebo patients, nor did it reduce the time it took for the patient to return to work, put full weight onto the affected leg, or return to the leisure activities that the patient had been able to perform prior to their accident. Additionally, there were no more reported cases of infections or instances of second operations.
“The medical device industry has not been held to a high standard,” said Dr. Jason W. Busse, an associate professor of anesthesiology at McMaster University and principal author of the study. “We hope that our study encourages investigators to explore the evidence underlying other devices, even if they’ve been on the market for 20 years or more.”