Bandages for Fracture Stabilization Evaluated (AAEP 2012)

Fracture stabilization is one of the most important steps in addressing potentially catastrophic injuries in horses. One of the staples veterinarians use to stabilize equine limb fractures is the Robert Jones bandage, a layered and padded bandage, sometimes used in conjunction with a splint layered inside the wrap, designed to limit limb mobility.

Recently, a research team from Washington State University (WSU) and the University of Idaho College of Engineering evaluated Robert Jones bandage application methods to determine the best way to limit motion in fractured limbs.

Julie Cary, DVM, MS, Dipl. ACVS, clinical assistant professor of equine surgery at the WSU College of Veterinary Medicine, presented the team's findings at the 2012 American Association of Equine Practitioners convention, held Dec. 1-5 in Anaheim, Calif.

"The purpose of this project was to critically evaluate the Robert Jones bandage and splinting techniques and to determine the biomechanical properties of this method and stabilization compared with proposed modifications," Cary explained.

The team used a model to simulate bending forces typically placed on a fracture in the mid-metacarpal (cannon bone) region. It included a 4-by-4-inch post 3 meters in length with a hinge 1 meter from the end. The team placed the bandage, with or without a splint, on the testing apparatus, centered over the hinge. They then evaluated stability with and without splinting, as well as with bandage modifications designed to increase stability.

To test the bandage and splint’s effectiveness, the team attached a 10-pound weight to the end of the model and measured how much the weight caused the mobile end of the testing apparatus to move from baseline.

"The greater the bending, the less supportive the splint was and the more damage would likely be occurring to the bone and soft tissue at the fracture site if it was used on a live animal," Cary said.

Cary’s key findings included:

  • A splint placed on the outside of a Robert Jones bandage, as is traditionally used, provided more stability than an unsplinted bandage;
  • Placing the splint between the first and second layers of padding provided increased stability compared to placing the splint outside the bandage; and
  • Using tightly pulled brown gauze in the wrap contributed significantly to bandage stiffness.

"The keys to providing a bandage with the most stability for a mid-metacarpal fracture include using brown gauze, pulling elastic bandage material maximally, and placing the splint within the Robert Jones bandage," Cary relayed. "Practice is critical and understanding how the materials behave mechanically is vital to correctly placing these bandages.”

She also stressed the importance of having a veterinarian perform the stabilization process. “Poorly placed bandages and splints can cause more problems than no splint,” she said, whereas “effective splints can save lives."

Disclaimer: Seek the advice of a qualified veterinarian before proceeding with any diagnosis, treatment, or therapy.