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Foot Ankle Int. 2012 Feb;33(2):92-8. doi: 10.3113/FAI.2012.0092.

Correlation of weightbearing radiographs and stability of stress positive ankle fractures.

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UCLA-Harbor Medical Center, Orthopedic Surgery, Torrance, CA 90509, USA.



A positive external rotation stress test has been used as an indication for operative treatment of fractures of the lateral malleolus. The objective of the current study was to ascertain the results of a protocol initially treating stress positive ankle fractures nonoperatively and utilizing weightbearing radiographs in surgical decision making.


We performed a prospective study of lateral malleolar fractures with an associated medial ligamentous injury. All patients with fractures of the lateral malleolus with medial sided symptoms and/or signs, and an intact ankle mortise underwent an external rotation stress test to confirm injury to the deltoid ligament (stress positive). Patients with a positive stress test were placed in a short-leg walking cast and seen in 7 days where weightbearing radiographs of the ankle were obtained. If the radiographs demonstrated an intact mortise, then nonoperative treatment was continued. If the weightbearing radiographs demonstrated medial clear space widening, then the patient was offered operative treatment to restore the congruency of the ankle mortise. Patients were assessed for conversion to operative treatment, complications, and functional outcome. Thirty-eight patients were enrolled in the study. Using Lauge-Hansen classification 36 (95%) were stress positive supination-external rotation fractures and 2 (5%) were stress positive pronation-external rotation fractures. Followup assessment was performed at a minimum of 6 months and averaged 12 months.


Weightbearing radiographs at the first post-injury clinic visit had an average medial clear space of 2.9 ±0.9 mm. Three (8%) patients met our criteria for medial clear space widening and underwent operative treatment. Of these three patients, two were pronation-external rotation fracture patterns. Therefore, 3% of the supination-external rotation IV fractures, and all of the pronation-external III/IV rotation fractures ultimately required operative treatment. At final followup, the average AOFAS hindfoot score was 92 ±8.1.


Ligamentous supination-external rotation Stage IV fractures with an intact mortise on static radiographs can be initially treated nonoperatively. Weightbearing radiographs should be utilized to assess congruency of the ankle mortise during an early post-injury visit. Utilizing this approach, a significant number of surgeries were avoided, and good to excellent results were obtained. From our early experience, nonoperative treatment of pronation-external rotation III/IV injuries using this protocol is not recommended.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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