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Acta Orthop Suppl. 2012 Dec;83(347):1-26. doi: 10.3109/17453674.2012.745657.

Stability-based classification for ankle fracture management and the syndesmosis injury in ankle fractures due to a supination external rotation mechanism of injury.

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Division of Orthopedic and Trauma Surgery, Department of Surgery, Oulu University Hospital FI 90029 OYS Oulu, Finland.


The aim of this thesis was to confirm the utility of stability-based ankle fracture classification in choosing between non-operative and operative treatment of ankle fractures, to determine how many ankle fractures are amenable to non-operative treatment, to assess the roles of the exploration and anatomical repair of the AITFL in the outcome of patients with SER ankle fractures, to establish the sensitivities, specificities and interobserver reliabilities of the hook and intraoperative stress tests for diagnosing syndesmosis instability in SER ankle fractures, and to determine whether transfixation of unstable syndesmosis is necessary in SER ankle fractures. The utility of stability based fracture classification to choose between non-operative and operative treatment was assessed in a retrospective study (1) of 253 ankle fractures in skeletally mature patients, 160 of whom were included in the study to obtain an epidemiological profile in a population of 130,000. Outcome was assessed after a minimum follow-up of two years. The role of AITFL repairs was assessed in a retrospective study (2) of 288 patients with Lauge-Hansen SE4 ankle fractures; the AITFL was explored and repaired in one group (n=165), and a similar operative method was used but the AITFL was not explored in another group (n=123). Outcome was measured with a minimum follow-up of two years. Interobserver reliability of clinical syndesomosis tests (study 3) and the role of syndesmosis transfixation (study 4) were assessed in a prospective study of 140 patients with Lauge-Hansen SE4 ankle fractures. The stability of the distal tibiofibular joint was evaluated by the hook and ER stress tests. Clinical tests were carried out by the main surgeon and assistant, separately, after which a 7.5-Nm standardized ER stress test for both ankles was performed; if it was positive, the patient was randomized to either syndesmosis transfixation (13 patients) or no fixation (11 patients) treatment groups. The sensitivity and specificity of both clinical tests were calculated using the standard 7.5-Nm external rotation stress test as reference. Outcome was assessed after a minimum of one year of follow-up. Olerud-Molander (OM) scoring system, RAND 36-Item Health Survey, and VAS to measure pain and function were used as outcome measures in all studies. In study 1, 85 (53%) fractures were treated operatively using the stability based fracture classification. Non-operatively treated patients reported less pain and better OM (good or excellent 89% vs. 71%) and VAS functional scores compared to operatively treated patients although they experienced more displacement of the distal fibula (0 mm 30% vs. 69%; 0-2 mm 65% vs. 25%) after treatment. No non-operatively treated patients required operative fracture fixation during follow-up. In study 2, AITFL exploration and suture lead to equal functional outcome (OM mean, 77 vs. 73) to no exploration or fixation. In study 3, the hook test had a sensitivity of 0.25 and a specificity of 0.98. The external rotation stress test had a sensitivity of 0.58 and a specificity of 0.9. Both tests had excellent interobserver reliability; the agreement was 99% for the hook test and 98% for the stress test. There was no statistically significant difference in functional scores (OM mean, 79.6 vs. 83.6) or pain between syndesmosis transfixation and no fixation groups (Study 4). Our results suggest that a simple stability-based fracture classification is useful in choosing between non-operative and operative treatment of ankle fractures; approximately half of the ankle fractures can be treated non-operatively with success. Our observations also suggest that relevant syndesmosis injuries are rare in ankle fractures due to an SER mechanism of injury. According to our research, syndesmotic repair or fixation in SER ankle fracture has no influence on functional outcome or pain after minimum one year compared with no fixation.

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