Orbital Blowout Fractures : Experimental Evidence for the Pure Hydraulic Theory

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BackgroundThe mechanism of injury and the underlying biomechanics of orbital blowout fractures remain controversial. The "hydraulic" theory proposes that a generalized increased orbital content pressure results in direct compression and fracturing of the thin orbital bone.ObjectiveTo examine the pure hydraulic mechanism of injury by eliminating the factor of globe-to-wall contact and its possible contribution to fracture thresholds and patterns.Materials and MethodsFive fresh human cadaver specimens were used for the study. In each cadaver head, 1 orbit was prepared to mimic the normal physiologic condition by increasing the hypotony of the cadaver globe to normal intraocular pressure (15-20 mm Hg) with intravitreous injection of isotonic sodium chloride solution (saline). The second orbit served as a "hydraulic control," whereby the globe and orbital contents were exenterated and replaced by a saline-filled balloon at physiologic intraocular pressure. A 1-kg pendulum measuring 2.5 cm in diameter was used to strike the cadaver heads. Drop heights ranged from 0.2 m to 1.1 m (1960 mJ to 10 780 mJ energy). Each head was struck twice, once to each orbit. Direct visualization, high-speed videography, and computed tomographic scans were used to determine injury patterns at various heights between the 2 orbits.ResultsA fracture threshold was found at a drop height of 0.3 m (2940 mJ). Fracture severity and displacement increased with incremental increases in drop height (energy). Fracture displacement, with herniation of orbital contents, was obtained at heights above 0.5 m (4900 mJ). Isolated orbital floor fractures were obtained at lower heights, with medial wall fractures occurring in conjunction with floor fractures at higher energies (≥6860 mJ). The globe intact side and balloon (hydraulic control) side showed nearly identical fracture patterns and levels of displacement at each drop height.ConclusionsThis study provides support for the "hydraulic" theory and evidence against the role of direct globe-to-wall contact in the pathogenesis of orbital blowout fractures. In addition, the orbital floor was found to have a lower threshold for fracture than the medial wall. Preliminary threshold values for fracture occurrence and soft tissue displacement were obtained.Arch Facial Plast Surg.2002;4:98-101

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