Wounds to the limbs are the commonest injuries seen during armed conflict and injury results from the transfer of energy from the missile to the tissues. There are a number of factors that determine the transfer of energy, and thus the extent of wounding. These include the velocity of the missile, its shape and stability, and the tissue through which the missile passes. Many of the wounds involve bone, and because of the interaction of missiles with bone, significant fractures can occur.
In many previous conflicts amputation was considered the treatment of choice for many limb injuries, but with recent advances in the management of severe open fractures, many of these limbs are now salvageable. Whilst the basic principles of the initial débridement remain unchanged, techniques of fracture stabilisation and definitive soft tissue cover have changed, and it is necessary to consider these in relation to military fractures. Definitive soft tissue closure can be safely delayed until evacuation further down the medical chain, but stabilisation of the fracture must be considered at the time of initial surgery. Many of the advances in fracture management may be unsuitable for use in a military environment due to logistical constraints. In addition it is likely that wound infection will be more common with military injuries, and this will influence the treatment.
This paper considers the interaction of missiles with soft tissue and bone, and discusses possible methods of fracture stabilisation in the military environment.
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