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Bone plates are metal plates used to reconstruct a bone that has been fractured. In most cases, they are used in places where a cast cannot be used, such as the jaw, nose, eye sockets, and skull. The plates hold the broken bone in place, allowing it to heal.
The material used in bone plates is generally considered to be compatible with the human body. This way, the plates do not damage the body, causing further injuries, or cause the body to have an immune response. The material most often used in bones plates includes stainless steel, cobalt base alloys, bioceramics, titanium alloys, and pure titanium. Bioceramics are ceramics that are compatible to the human body, such as calcium phosphate ceramic.
Steel plates are not always considered an ideal material for bone plates, as they lose their tension after a certain amount of time. When this happens, the injury is no longer under compression, which slows the healing process. Titanium plates last a bit longer, but eventually lose their tension as well. This is due to the difficulty in designing bone plates to apply the correct pressure on the fracture without causing harm, a problem that experts continue to address.
When a bone plate is required, an orthopedic surgeon will choose the best suited plate and fasten it on both sides of the fracture. The plate is held in place by screws. The screws are placed into holes as far from the fracture as possible, to avoid adding stress to the already injured bone.
If a metal bone plate is used to help stabilize a bone, it must be removed once the bone has healed. This requires additional surgery and recovery time. Removal of the metal bone plate can also cause additional damage to the bone, as screws and the plate itself are detached. Experts are working on creating bone plates from materials that will naturally break down or be absorbed by the body, but such materials do not yet have the same strength as metal plates offer.
Bone plates should not be confused with bone growth plates which occur naturally in the body. Bone growth plates are located on either end of growing long bones, between the bony cap and the shaft of the bone. Their purpose is to regulate the length and shape of the mature bone.