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Orbital blowout fractures: experimental evidence for the pure hydraulic theory. Arch Facial Plast Surg 2002 Apr-Jun;4(2):98-101



Pubmed ID




Scopus ID

2-s2.0-0036546491   41 Citations


BACKGROUND: The 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.

OBJECTIVE: To 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 METHODS: Five 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.

RESULTS: A 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 (> or =6860 mJ). The globe intact side and balloon (hydraulic control) side showed nearly identical fracture patterns and levels of displacement at each drop height.

CONCLUSIONS: This 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.

Author List

Rhee JS, Kilde J, Yoganadan N, Pintar F


Frank A. Pintar PhD Chair, Professor in the Biomedical Engineering department at Medical College of Wisconsin
John S. Rhee MD Chair, Professor in the Otolaryngology department at Medical College of Wisconsin

MESH terms used to index this publication - Major topics in bold

Biomechanical Phenomena
Eye Injuries
Orbital Fractures
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