Background: Failed conservative treatment and complications are indications for foot reconstruction in Charcot arthropathy. External fixation using the Ilizarov principles offers a one-stage procedure for deformity correction and resection of osteomyelitic bone. The aim of this study was to determine whether external fixation with an Ilizarov ring fixator leads reliably to walking ability.
Materials and methods: 29 patients treated with an Ilizarov ring fixator for Charcot arthropathy were retrospectively analyzed. Radiologic fusion at final follow up was assessed separately on conventional X-rays by two authors. The association between walking ability and the presence of osteomyelitis at the time of reconstruction, and the presence of fusion at final follow up was investigated using Fisher's exact test.
Results: Mean follow up was 35 months (range 5.3-107) months; mean time of external fixation was 113 days. Ten patients (34.5%) reached fusion, but 19 did not (65.5%). Two patients needed below knee amputation. 26 of the remaining 27 patients maintained walking ability, 23 of those without assistive devices. Walking ability was independent from the presence of osteomyelitis at the time of reconstruction and from the presence of fusion.
Conclusion: Foot reconstruction with an Ilizarov ring fixator led to limb salvage in 93%. The vast majority (96.3%) of patients with successful limb salvage was ambulatory, independent from radiologic fusion, and presence of osteomyelitis at the time of reconstruction. These findings encourage limb salvage and deformity correction in this difficult-to-treat disease, even with underlying osteomyelitis.