The effect of concurrent fibular fracture on the fixation of distal tibia fractures: a laboratory comparison of intramedullary nails with locked plates

Eric J Strauss, Daniel Alfonso, Frederick J Kummer, Kenneth A Egol, Nirmal C Tejwani
Journal of Orthopaedic Trauma 2007, 21 (3): 172-7

OBJECTIVE: To compare the fixation stability of intramedullary nails to that of locked plates for the treatment of distal metaphyseal tibia and fibula fractures.

METHODS: A simulated, distal metaphyseal tibia fracture was created in 8 pairs of cadaveric tibia-fibula specimens. One of each pair was treated using an intramedullary nail (Trigen IM Nail System; SN Richards, Memphis, TN) and the other with a locked plate (Peri-Loc Periarticular Locked Plating System; SN Richards). Each specimen was vertically loaded to 250 N in central, anterior, posterior, medial, and lateral locations; loaded to 250 N in cantilever bending in anterior to posterior and posterior to anterior directions; and loaded to 250 N mm in torsion. Load-displacement curves were generated to determine the construct stiffness for each loading scenario, with comparisons made between the 2 treatment groups. Each specimen was then cyclically loaded with 750 N vertical loads applied for 10, 100, 1000, and 10,000 cycles. Measurements of fracture displacements were made and compared between treatment groups. A fibular osteotomy was then created in each specimen at the same level as the tibia fracture to simulate a same-level tibia-fibular fracture. Torsional stiffness assessment and cyclic vertical loading for 10, 100, 1000, and 10,000 cycles were repeated and fracture displacement measurements were again obtained.

RESULTS: The locked plate construct was stiffer than the intramedullary nail construct for central, anterior, and posterior loading scenarios (P < 0.005, P < 0.03, and P < 0.02, respectively). The intramedullary nail construct was stiffer than the locked plate construct for both anterior to posterior and posterior to anterior cantilever bending (P < 0.03 and P < 0.02, respectively). No statistically significant difference in stiffness was noted between treatment groups for medial and lateral vertical loading or for torsional loading (P = 0.09, P = 0.32, and P = 0.84, respectively). There was no significant difference between treatment groups with respect to fracture displacement after cyclic vertical loading. After creation of the fibular osteotomy fracture, construct displacements after 1000 and 10,000 cycles significantly increased and torsional stiffness significantly decreased for both treatment groups. The locked plate constructs had significantly less displacement after cyclic loading of 1000 and 10,000 than the locked nail constructs (P < 0.001 and P < 0.0001, respectively). Locked plate constructs were stiffer in torsion after osteotomy than the intramedullary nail constructs (P < 0.05).

CONCLUSION: This study demonstrated that, in the treatment of distal metaphyseal tibia fractures, locked plates provided more stable fixation than intramedullary nails in vertical loading but were less effective in cantilever bending. An intact fibula in the presence of a distal tibia fracture improved the fracture fixation stability for both treatment methods. In fracture patterns in which the fibula cannot be effectively stabilized, locked plates offer improved mechanical stability when compared with locked intramedullary nails.

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