Air Bags Linked to More Foot, Ankle Trauma
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Members of the American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons (ACFAS) say they’ve noticed a significant increase in traumatic foot and ankle injuries among patients who survived auto accidents. The reason? Air bags.
In 1998, the federal government started requiring dual front air bags in passenger cars. Since then, several research studies have documented a corresponding increase in lower extremity injuries. According to a federal report, drivers in air-bag equipped cars suffer more than 17,600 lower extremity injuries every year. One-third of those are to the foot and ankle.
While foot and ankle trauma is not life threatening, victims may face multiple surgeries, limited mobility and months or years of rehabilitation and physical therapy.
“We see trauma we never saw before,” says ACFAS Past President James L. Thomas, DPM, FACFAS, a foot and ankle trauma surgeon. “A decade ago, these patients would have died from head trauma or other upper body injuries. Now, thanks to seat belts and air bags, they survive.”
Foot and ankle surgeons are using less-invasive techniques for treating traumatic injuries received in motor vehicle crashes and other incidents. A common technique is the use of internal or external fixation devices, which immobilize the foot and ankle, just like a cast. Internal fixation devices can involve a series of rods, screws and plates attached to bones, stabilizing them and permitting proper healing. External fixation devices appear as scaffolding on a building, with outside rods through the skin attached to bone underneath.
“Many patients who suffer foot and ankle trauma in an auto crash – with or without air bags – face a long road to recovery,” says Thomas. “But the good news is, many patients do recover and lead a normal active lifestyle.”
For more information on foot and ankle surgeons and the conditions they treat, visit the ACFAS consumer Web site FootHealthFacts.org.