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General Orthopaedics


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



A significant burden of disease exists with respect to critical sized bone defects; outcomes are unpredictable and often poor. There is no absolute agreement on what constitutes a “critically-sized” bone defect however it is widely considered as one that would not heal spontaneously despite surgical stabilisation, thus requiring re-operation. The aetiology of such defects is varied. High-energy trauma with soft tissue loss and periosteal stripping, bone infection and tumour resection all require extensive debridement and the critical-sized defects generated require careful consideration and strategic management. Current management practice of these defects lacks consensus. Existing literature tells us that tibial defects 25mm or great have a poor natural history; however, there is no universally agreed management strategy and there remains a significant evidence gap. Drawing its origins from musculoskeletal oncology, the Capanna technique describes a hybrid mode of reconstruction. Mass allograft is combined with a vascularised fibula autograft, allowing the patient to benefit from the favourable characteristics of two popular reconstruction techniques. Allograft confers initial mechanical stability with autograft contributing osteogenic, inductive and conductive capacity to encourage union. Secondarily its inherent vascularity affords the construct the ability to withstand deleterious effects of stressors such as infection that may threaten union. The strengths of this hybrid construct we believe can be used within the context of critical-sized bone defects within tibial trauma to the same success as seen within tumour reconstruction.


Utilising the Capanna technique in trauma requires modification to the original procedure. In tumour surgery pre-operative cross-sectional imaging is a pre-requisite. This allows surgeons to assess margins, plan resections and order allograft to match the defect. In trauma this is not possible. We therefore propose a two-stage approach to address critical-sized tibial defects in open fractures. After initial debridement, external fixation and soft tissue management via a combined orthoplastics approach, CT imaging is performed to assess the defect geometry, with a polymethylmethacrylate (PMMA) spacer placed at index procedure to maintain soft tissue tension, alignment and deliver local antibiotics. Once comfortable that no further debridement is required and the risk of infection is appropriate then 3D printing technology can be used to mill custom jigs. Appropriate tibial allograft is ordered based on CT measurements. A pedicled fibula graft is raised through a lateral approach. The peroneal vessels are mobilised to the tibioperoneal trunk and passed medially into the bone void. The cadaveric bone is prepared using the custom jig on the back table and posterolateral troughs made to allow insertion of the fibula, permitting some hypertrophic expansion. A separate medial incision allows attachment of the custom jig to host tibia allowing for reciprocal cuts to match the allograft. The fibula is implanted into the allograft, ensuring nil tension on the pedicle and, after docking the graft, the hybrid construct is secured with multi-planar locking plates to provide rotational stability. The medial window allows plate placement safely away from the vascular pedicle.


We present a 50-year-old healthy male with a Gustilo & Anderson 3B proximal tibial fracture, open posteromedially with associated shear fragment, treated using the Capanna technique. Presenting following a fall climbing additional injuries included a closed ipsilateral calcaneal and medial malleolar fracture, both treated operatively. Our patient underwent reconstruction of his tibia with the above staged technique. Two debridements were carried out due to a 48-hour delay in presentation due to remote geographical location of recovery. Debridements were carried out in accordance with BOAST guidelines; a spanning knee external fixator applied and a small area of skin loss on the proximal medial calf reconstructed with a split thickness skin graft. A revision cement spacer was inserted into the metaphyseal defect measuring 84mm. At definitive surgery the external fixator was removed and graft fixation was extended to include the intra-articular fragments. No intra-operative complications were encountered during surgeries. The patient returned to theatre on day 13 with a medial sided haematoma. 20ml of haemoserous fluid was evacuated, a DAIR procedure performed and antibiotic-loaded bioceramics applied locally. Samples grew Staphylococcus aureus and antibiotic treatment was rationalised to Co-Trimoxazole 960mg BD and Rifampicin 450mg BD. The patient has completed a six-week course of Rifampicin and continues on suppressive Co-Trimoxazole monotherapy until planned metalwork removal. There is no evidence of ongoing active infection and radiological evidence of early union. The patient is independently walking four miles to the gym daily and we believe, thus far, despite accepted complications, we have demonstrated a relative early success.


A variety of techniques exist for the management of critical-sized bone defects within the tibia. All of these come with a variety of drawbacks and limitations. Whilst acceptance of a limb length discrepancy is one option, intercalary defects of greater than 5 to 7cm typically require reconstruction. In patients in whom fine wire fixators and distraction osteogenesis are deemed inappropriate, or are unwilling to tolerate the frequent re-operations and potential donor site morbidity of the Masqualet technique, the Capanna technique offers a novel solution. Through using tibial allograft to address the size mismatch between vascularised fibula and tibia, the possible complication of fatigue fracture of an isolated fibula autograft is potentially avoidable in patients who have high functional demands. The Capanna technique has demonstrated satisfactory results within tumour reconstruction. Papers report that by combining the structural strength of allograft with the osteoconductive and osteoinductive properties of a vascularised autograft that limb salvage rates of greater than 80% and union rates of greater than 90% are achievable. If these results can indeed be replicated in the management of critical-sized bone defects in tibial trauma we potentially have a treatment strategy that can excel over the more widely practiced current techniques.