The Ilizarov apparatus is named after the orthopedic surgeon, Gavril Abramovich Ilizarov, from Siberia who pioneered the technique. It is used in surgical procedures to lengthen or reshape limb bones; treat complex and/or open bone fractures; and in cases of infected non-unions of bones that are not amenable with other techniques.
Professor Gavril Abramovich Ilizarov invented this procedure in the 1950s after having to treat orthopedic conditions in the Kurgan region of Siberia. The procedure, and the first apparatus he designed for it, was inspired by a shaft bow harness on a horse carriage. Originally bicycle parts were used for the frame.
This novel technique was introduced to the West in the 1980s, predominantly via Italian surgeons. It gained popularity in the 1990s, and has been used successfully by many surgeons throughout the world. In most developing countries it is a highly specialised technique used mainly for deformity correction by experienced surgeons due to its complexity. Further development of the ring construct led to the Taylor Spatial Frame which is more versatile and far easier to use, but very costly. Though nowadays intramedullary limb lengthening devices are also available, they are not suitable for deformity correction of bones.
The device is a specialized form of external fixator, a circular fixator, modular in construction. Stainless steel rings are fixed to the bone via stainless heavy-gauge wire (called "pins" or Kirschner wires). The rings are connected to each other with threaded rods attached through adjustable nuts. The circular construction and tensioned wires of the Ilizarov apparatus provide far more structural support than the traditional monolateral fixator system. This allows early weightbearing. The frame can be used to support a fractured limb, but it is most commonly used to correct deformity through distraction osteogenesis.
The procedure consists of an initial surgery, during which the bone is surgically fractured and the ring apparatus is attached. As the patient recovers, the fractured bone begins to grow together. While the bone is growing, the frame is adjusted by means of turning the nuts, thus increasing the space between two rings. As the rings are connected to opposite sides of the fracture, this adjustment, done four times a day, moves the now-healing fracture apart by approximately one millimeter per day. The incremental daily increases result in a considerable lengthening of the limb over time. Once the lengthening phase is complete, the apparatus stays on the limb for a consolidation period. The patient is able to fully weight bear on the Ilizarov frame, using crutches initially and pain is lessened. Once healing is complete, a second surgery is necessary to remove the ring apparatus. The result is a limb that is significantly longer. Additional surgery may be necessary, in the case of leg lengthening, to lengthen the Achilles tendon to accommodate the longer bone length. The major advantage of this procedure is that because the apparatus provides complete support while the bone is recovering the patient can remain active aiding recovery.
A further use is of bone transport, whereby a defect in a long bone can be treated by transporting a segment of bone, whilst simultaneously lengthening regenerate to reduce the defect and finally dock with the other segment, producing a single bony unit.
While the Ilizarov apparatus is minimally invasive (no large incisions are made,) it is not free of complications. Pain is common and can be severe, but is treatable with analgesics. Careful attention to cleaning and hygiene is necessary to prevent pin site infection. Other complications include swelling and muscle transfixion.
The Ilizarov method is widely used to treat complex and/or open bone fractures. This method is preferred over conventional treatment options (such as internal fixator or cast) where there is a high risk of infection or the fracture is of such severity that internal fixators are unworkable.