Background: Thermal imaging has been used as a clinical follow-up technique in several medical specialties.
Purpose: The aim of this study was to investigate the feasibility of using medical thermography in the diagnosis and follow-up assessment of a severe orthopedic trauma that requires the use of an external circular fixator.
Patients and methods: Twenty clinical follow-ups of thermal imaging correlated with X-ray images were performed in a male volunteer, diagnosed with bone nonunion, during 11 months of treatment, in the hospital trauma and reconstruction department. Data were acquired in the regions of interest of the proximal tibia, diaphysis and distal, with a Flir T530 medical grade infrared camera from Flir Systems®, and the data processed by the Matlab® 2019 custom made software.
Results: Statistical analysis was performed by Wilcoxon signed-rank test. The results showed a median temperature of 22.2°C, and thus some periods of interruption in the healing process between the third and twentieth clinical follow-up, and a significant increase of the temperature to 34.6°C synchronous with a diagnosis of bone infection by the eleventh clinical follow-up. The thermal images acquired during the 20 clinical follow-ups allow a correlation with the data from the X-ray exams and also with the contralateral limb of the evaluated patient, showing thermal alterations greater than 0.3°C, which are significant of physiological abnormality.
Conclusion: The thermography exam can be a useful tool for applying on the follow-up of patients after trauma or bone fracture. The results showed important physiological data related to the vascularization necessary for bone repairing, being therefore a good indicator of the healing process. In addition, as infrared thermography does not use ionizing radiation, it can be used countlessly, in complement to the traditional X-ray exams that focus on anatomical data analysis.
Keywords: Ilizarov method; bone healing; infrared medical thermography; nonunion, ortho, orthopeadics, orthopedie.