Variability of Orthopedic Physician Fracture Location Identification: Implications for Bone Stimulator Treatment

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Aseptic non-union is a significant complication in approximately 5% of long-bone fractures. External bone stimulation treatment is often attempted before more invasive surgical interventions. Bone stimulators can have favorable results, but have a limited 1.7 cm therapeutic radius. This study evaluated the accuracy by which clinicians locate a fracture on a cadaveric model. This has implications for the clinician's ability to accurately counsel patients on daily bone stimulator placement. Additionally, physicians (orthopedic attending surgeons and residents) were compared with pre-clinical (M1 and M2) medical students to evaluate if higher levels of training improved accuracy.


Orthopedic physicians and pre-clinical medical students will localize a radiographic fracture within 1.7 cm less than 100% of the time, which represents the ideal consistency for patient care. Furthermore, orthopedic physicians will achieve a higher percentage accuracy than pre-clinical medical students.

Materials and methods

The sample included 20 orthopedic physicians and 16 pre-clinical medical students. Upper (radius) and lower (tibia) extremity cadaver models were prepared by inducing a single, transverse diaphyseal fracture. Plain reference radiographs of each model were obtained. Participants placed a radiopaque marker onto each model at the perceived fracture location, and radiographs were taken to document placement. Perpendicular marker-to-fracture distance was measured to the nearest mm along each bone's long axis using the PACS system.


Placement within the therapeutic radius was achieved by 70–80% of physicians, and 69–75% of medical students. In the remaining participants, improper placement distances were lower among physicians than among medical students (radius: 2.1 ± 0.5 vs. 3.6 ± 0.9 cm, p = 0.02; tibia: 2.6 ± 0.5 vs 3.5 ± 0.5 cm, p = 0.89).


In two cadaveric fracture models, up to 30% of orthopedic surgeons perceived a fracture location to be outside a bone stimulator's 1.7 cm therapeutic radius. This finding suggests that physicians and their patients may benefit from additional methods for specifying the location of a non-union before commencing daily bone stimulator treatment.

Level of evidence

Level IV, prospective cohort study-evidence from a well-designed prospective cohort study.



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