header advert
Orthopaedic Proceedings Logo

Receive monthly Table of Contents alerts from Orthopaedic Proceedings

Comprehensive article alerts can be set up and managed through your account settings

View my account settings

Visit Orthopaedic Proceedings at:



Full Access

General Orthopaedics


The British Limb Reconstruction Society (BLRS) Annual Meeting 2023, Belfast, Northern Ireland, 23–24 March 2023.



Bone transport and distraction osteogenesis have been shown to be an effective treatment for significant bone loss in the tibia. However, traditional methods of transport are often associated with high patient morbidity due to the pain and scarring caused by the external frame components transporting the bone segment. Prolonged time in frame is also common as large sections of regenerate need significant time to consolidate before the external fixator can be removed. Cable transport has had a resurgence with the description of the balanced cable transport system. However, this introduced increasingly complex surgery along with the risk of cable weave fracture. This method also requires frame removal and intramedullary nailing, with a modified nail, to be performed in a single sitting, which raised concern regarding potential deep infection. An alternative to this method is our modified cable transport system with early intramedullary nail fixation. Internal cables reduce pain and scarring of the skin during transport and allow for well controlled transport segment alignment. The cable system is facilitated through an endosteal plate that reduces complications and removes the need for a single-stage frame removal and nailing procedure. Instead, the patients can undergo a pin-site holiday before nailing is performed using a standard tibial nail. Early intramedullary nailing once transport is complete reduces overall time in frame and allows full weight bearing as the regenerate consolidates. We present our case series of patients treated with this modified cable transport technique.


Patients were identified through our limb reconstruction database and clinic notes, operative records and radiographs were reviewed. Since 2019, 8 patients (5 male : 3 female) have undergone bone transport via our modified balanced cable transport technique. Average age at time of transport was 39.6 years (range 21–58 years) with all surgeries performed by the senior author. Patients were followed up until radiological union. We recorded the length of bone transport achieved as well as any problems, obstacles or complications encountered during treatment. We evaluated outcomes of full weight bearing and return to function as well as radiological union.


4/8 bone defects were due to severely comminuted open fractures requiring extensive debridement. All other cases had previously undergone fixation of tibial fractures which had failed due to infection, soft tissue defects or mal-reduction. The mean tibial defect treated with bone transport was 41mm (range 37–78mm). From the start of cable transport to removal of external fixator our patients spent an average of 201 days in frame. 7/8 patients underwent a 2-week pin-site holiday and subsequent insertion of intramedullary nail 2 weeks later. One patient had sufficient bony union to not require further internal fixation after frame removal. 10 problems were identified during treatment. These included 4 superficial infections treated with antibiotics alone and 5 issues with hardware, which could be resolved in the outpatient clinic. 1 patient had their rate of transport slowed due to poor skin quality over the site of the regenerate. 4 obstacles resulted in a return to theatre for additional procedures. 1 patient had a re-do corticotomy and 3 had revision of their internal cable transport constructs due to decoupling or screw pull out. 1 patient had residual ankle joint equinus following treatment which required an Achilles tendon lengthening procedure. Another patient underwent treatment for DVT. There were no deep infections identified and no significant limb length discrepancies or deformities.


Overall, we have found that our modified balanced cable transport technique has allowed for successful bone transport for significant defects of the tibia. We have learned from the obstacles encountered during this case series to avoid unnecessary return trips to theatre for our future transport patients. The internal cable system allowed all patients to complete their planned transport without excessive pin tract scarring or pain. Early conversion to intramedullary nail allowed for a shorter time in frame with continued full weight bearing as the regenerate consolidated. No metalwork failure or deformity has occurred in relation to docking site union. All patients have made a good return to pre-operative function during their follow-up period with no evidence of late complications such as deep infection.