Back to Active Life After Wrist Nonunion Fracture Treatment Without Surgery

POSTED ON 9/26/2017 IN Hand and Wrist BY Christopher Centeno

We've been treating fractures that don't heal with precisely targeted stem cell injections for about a decade. For many patients who are looking at big surgeries, these breakthrough procedures can help avoid the plates and screws. To find out more, let's meet Henry.

What You Need to Know About Wrist Nonunion Fracture

While wrist fractures normally heal, sometimes, for whatever reason, they don't. When a fracture doesn't heal, this is called a nonunion, or a delayed union, and it can be a nightmare. When a nonunion fracture occurs, the focus will typically turn to surgery. Nonunion fractures aren't limited to wrists; they can occur in other parts of the body as well. And when a fracture results in many bone fragments, surgery often isn't even an option as it's counterproductive to install a larger volume of hardware than there is bone.

When surgery is an option, a bone graft, or some type of biomaterial, will be placed in the nonunion fracture area, and electromagnetic simulators will be used to try and help the bone mend. Sometimes, such as what was suggested to Henry, the patient featured in the video above, before he came to us, screws and plates are installed in the wrist to bolt the broken bone pieces together. Luckily, Henry did his research and learned that a nonunion wrist fracture held together with hardware never functions quite the same as it once did, and he said no to surgery. Let's review Henry's story, and be sure to watch his video above.

Henry's Story: A Wrist Nonunion Fracture Treatment Without Screws

Henry, as a heavy-equipment operator at a refinery working anywhere from 8 to 16 hours a day (depending on the events of the day), relies on proper function in his wrists and hands for a living. Outside of work, he's an active dad who spends time at the gym and bikes. It was a biking accident that originally led to his broken wrist (a fractured scaphoid bone), but, unfortunately, his wrist never healed, and he was left with a debilitating wrist nonunion fracture.

Scaphoid nonunion can be tough to treat. One of the problems is that the bone can collapse and lead to deformity of the wrist and chronic pain. Hence, having a nonsurgical alternative where the patient can just undergo an injection to prompt healing is pretty revolutionary. Henry's wrist nonunion fracture was affecting his life, his activities with his children, his hobbies. He'd lost all strength in the affected wrist, and his orthopedic doctor had told him it was a bone that just doesn't typically heal and that the only solution was to insert a screw to hold the fracture together. Ironically, it wasn't the conversation with his doctor that led to Henry's decision on his wrist nonunion fracture; it was conversations with some of the guys at work who'd had a similar surgery (insertion of screws into a wrist nonunion fracture) to the one he was considering.

They'd all experienced problems with the surgery, including discomfort and loss of range of motion, things that would continue to disrupt Henry's active lifestyle and the ability to optimally perform his job. Henry began researching nonsurgical nonunion fracture treatment and found Dr. Amoroso and Regenexx. His wrist nonunion fracture was nondisplaced, making him a good candidate for a stem cell treatment. Henry's own stem cells were precisely injected into the fractured area of his wrist, and six to eight weeks later, his wrist strength had returned and he had reclaimed his active life, operating heavy equipment at work, playing with his kids again, and with no wrist discomfort—and no screws! In the video, Dr. Amoroso shares Henry's before wrist MRI, showing swelling (the white stuff on the image) and the scaphoid fracture line. He also shares the after MRI, showing no more swelling and a healed scaphoid bone (no more white stuff).

Nonsurgical Nonunion Fracture Treatment with Stem Cells

Monster-sized surgery for nonunion fractures comes with monster-sized problems. Many times, there are so many broken pieces of bone in a nonunion fracture that screwing it all back together simply isn't an option. And even if it is an option, the permanent discomfort from the hardware and loss of range of motion can be difficult to live with.

Thankfully, nonunion fracture treatment with stem cells rather than surgery and screws is available. Injecting stem cells into a nonunion fracture is also far less invasive than opening up the fracture site and implanting a bone graft and screws. Even patients with slow-healing fractures (a fractured tibia in this study) experience faster healing (41 days faster in this case) when compared to surgery patients when stem cells and PRP are injected. This isn't surprising to us as we've been performing nonunion fracture treatment without surgery and with our patients' own stem cells for over a decade and have seen great success. In fact, we published a research paper on stem cell injections for nonunion fractures many years ago.

The upshot? It's great to be able to help patients avoid big surgeries. Realize that precise placement of stem cells into fractures requires specialized training and equipment!  

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