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The ability of the Lauge-Hansen classification to predict ligament injury and mechanism in ankle fractures: an MRI study.

OBJECTIVES: The Lauge-Hansen classification system was designed to predict the mechanism and ligament injury patterns of ankle fractures on the basis of x-rays. The purpose of this study was to evaluate the accuracy of these predicted injury sequences using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) in a series of patients with ankle fractures.

DESIGN: Retrospective cohort.

SETTING: Two university level 1 trauma centers.

PATIENTS: Fifty-nine patients with operative ankle fractures who were evaluated with both x-ray and MRI were included.

INTERVENTION: All patients had a standard 3-view ankle x-ray series before fracture reduction, followed by an MRI. All plain x-rays were assigned to a Lauge-Hansen category by an experienced orthopedic traumatologist. MRI studies were subsequently read by an MRI musculoskeletal radiologist for the integrity of the ankle ligaments.

MAIN OUTCOME MEASUREMENTS: After evaluation of the x-rays, fractures were classified according to the system of Lauge-Hansen, and the predicted presence, sequence, and mechanism of injury was determined. These were then compared to the actual injured structures on MRI in each case, and the ability of the Lauge-Hansen system to accurately predict the complete injury pattern was determined for the entire cohort.

RESULTS: Average patient age was 59 (range: 18 to 84) years. Of the 59 ankle fractures evaluated, 37 (63%) were classified as supination external rotation, 11 (19%) were pronation external rotation, 1 (2%) was supination adduction, and 10 (17%) were not classifiable on the basis of the Lauge-Hansen system. Of the 49 fractures that fit into Lauge-Hansen categories, 26 (53%) had patterns of ligamentous injury and fracture morphology that did not coincide with the Lauge-Hansen predictions. A common fracture pattern was observed in 8 of the 10 unclassifiable fractures, which included a high spiral fracture of the fibula, vertical shear fracture of the medial malleolus, posterior malleolar fracture, and complete tears of the anterior-inferior tibiofibular ligament and the interosseous membrane. In addition, over 65% of patients in this series had complete ligamentous injury and a fracture of the malleolus to which the ligament attaches.

CONCLUSIONS: These results demonstrate that the Lauge-Hansen classification system may have some limitations as a predictor of the mechanism of injury and the presence of soft-tissue damage associated with ankle fractures. The identification of a novel pattern of ankle fracture also illustrates how the system fails to describe all possible fracture patterns. For these reasons, we recommend that the Lauge-Hansen system be used only as a guide in the diagnosis and management of ankle fractures and not solely relied upon for treatment decisions. Although the exact clinical implications of the variety of ligamentous injuries observed on MRI are yet to be determined, this technique may be useful in individual cases in which doubt about joint stability and soft-tissue integrity exists. Additionally, MRI may be helpful in planning surgical approaches in atypical fractures in which injury patterns are less predictable solely on the basis of x-ray.

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