Bone & joint health Sunnybrook Magazine Sunnybrook Magazine - Spring 2020

New technique uses a remote control device to lengthen and heal leg bones

A novel bone-lengthening technique using a magnetized remote control is giving some Sunnybrook patients who have lost a piece of their leg bone, either through traumatic injury or disease, a more active role in their own healing process.

Similar to a gamer using a joystick, a patient uses a hand-held magnetized controller to manipulate specialized nail hardware implanted in their injured bone for 30 minutes, three times a day. The internal nail slowly expands to lengthen and heal the bone, eventually filling in the missing gap.

The process can be slow – the bone is only lengthened by as little as a quarter of a millimetre each day. But it adds up over time as the remote control precisely moves the bone segment up to 10 centimetres, based on the specific needs of each patient.

It’s a giant leap forward from the traditional approach, which rendered patients immobile for months with a cumbersome external frame attached to their limb and into the bone at multiple points with bars and adjustment knobs to force pressure through.

The new technique is also far less invasive and painful, which benefits patients more in the long run.

“Since using the magnet and nail technique, we have seen significant reductions in complications such as infection, and the patient’s healing time is reduced by months as a result,” says Dr. Richard Jenkinson, head of orthopaedic trauma for Sunnybrook’s Holland Bone and Joint Program.

Sunnybrook is the first centre in Canada using the newest version of this nail, which now allows patients to walk on their injured legs while undergoing treatment.

“Not only is the patient freed from the external fixation device, but now they are also able to walk while the healing takes place,” says Dr. Jenkinson. “This is a full year of mobility that wasn’t possible before. The patient can move on with their lives much more easily.”

A illustration of a leg bone.

Click to view plain text version of infographic
  1. Patient pushes button on remote control advice.
  2. Magnetic interaction between the remote controller and the intramedullary nail’s internal gear system causes the nail to expand.

Illustration by Emblem

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Nadia Radovini

Nadia Norcia Radovini is a communications advisor at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre.

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