External Fixator

An external fixator is a device that holds a broken bone in a fixed position until it heals. This device is often used on your arms, legs, pelvis, or neck. It is attached to your bones with screws called pins or bolts. The pins are drilled into the bone on each side of the break and attached to a metal or carbon fiber rod with nuts. When the bone is fully healed, the external fixator is removed. The type of external fixator you have will depend on what bone is broken. Most people need an external fixator for 6 to 12 weeks. Sometimes it is needed for up to 1 year for fractures that heal slowly or fractures that require slow alteration in alignment.


You should examine your external fixator every day. Look for any loose pins. Pain at the site where the pin exits the skin or the site of the break could be a sign of looseness. Make sure the nuts are tight. Your caregiver may show you how to tighten the nuts. However, do not make any adjustments to your external fixator, unless instructed otherwise by your caregiver.

Clean the frame of the fixator twice each week with a 4-inch square gauze, moistened with rubbing alcohol and water. After cleaning the frame, wipe it dry with a towel. Use a new gauze and a clean towel for each cleaning. Once it is okay for you to shower, you can clean the frame in the shower.

Clean the pin sites twice each day. These are the spots where the pins go through your skin and into your bone. To clean the pin sites, you will need the following items:

  • Hydrogen peroxide.

  • Saline solution.

  • Sterile cotton swabs.

  • Sterile gauze.

Wash your hands carefully. Use antibacterial soap. Mix a cleaning solution of equal amounts of hydrogen peroxide and saline solution in a sterile container. Dip a cotton swab in the mixture. Swab around the base of the pin, where it meets your skin. Use a circular motion. If your skin has moved up onto the pin, gently push it back down. Remove any crusts that have formed on the pin. After you have swabbed the base of the pin, clean the rest of the pin. Use a new swab for each pin. Dry each pin site with a clean cotton swab.


  • A pin becomes loose or moves.

  • You have pain at any pin site.

  • A pin site becomes red or swollen, or fluid leaks from the pin site.

  • You have increasing pain where your bone was broken.