Painful surgery for those suffering from stubborn bone fractures that won't join up could soon become a thing of the past.
Scientists have developed a new, non-invasive treatment using ultrasound shockwaves that can heal broken bones without under going surgery.
In most cases, fractures heal naturally, usually with the help of a splint or cast to keep the bone in place, over a period of weeks or months.
However in around five percent of fractures, a gap remains between the two broken ends, usually a result of damage to the blood supply to the bones or infection.
These are called non-union fractures. In order for healing to occur, the gap needs to be filled in.
Previously the only option was a bone graft. More recently a man-made version of a growth factor called bone morphogenetic protein has been used.
But now orthopaedic surgeons are using pulsed ultrasound to heal these stubborn fractures.
The Exogen Ultrasound Bone Healing System is a battery-powered device roughly the size of a mobile phone that emits low intensity soundwaves through the skin to the fracture. These pulses stimulate the bone to heal.
"The ultrasound creates minute vibrations. This causes the bones to produce their own version of bone morphogenetic protein. It's like switching on a light and waking up the damaged edges of the fracture," the Daily Mail quoted Mark Phillips, senior orthopaedic consultant at King's College, London, as saying.
The device must be used for 20 minutes each day by the patient at home and it takes around six weeks until results can be seen on X-rays. The treatment is painless and has no known side effects.
Clinical studies have put Exogen's success rate at 86 percent although Phillips says it is not a miracle cure for everyone.
"There are limitations. Any gap larger than half an inch will usually require surgical intervention," he said.