Unicortical Fixation is Sufficient for Surgical Treatment of Tibial Tubercle Avulsion Fractures in Children

Alexandre Arkader, Mathew Schur, Christian Refakis, Anthony Capraro, Regina Woon, Paul Choi
Journal of Pediatric Orthopedics 2019, 39 (1): e18-e22

BACKGROUND: Although open reduction and internal fixation are recommended for displaced tibial tubercle avulsion fractures in young athletes, whether to use unicortical or bicortical fixation is debatable. The purpose of this study is to compare the outcomes of unicortical versus bicortical fixation in a series of pediatric tibial tubercle avulsion fractures.

METHODS: We reviewed a consecutive series of patients with tibial tubercle fractures treated surgically at 2 level-1 pediatric tertiary care centers over a 12.5-year period. Patients aged below 18 years of age who received surgical treatment for displaced tibial tubercle fractures with postoperative follow-up were included. Fractures were classified using a modified Ogden classification system. The relative proportion of fracture types treated and incidence of complications were compared.

RESULTS: The cohort included 90 fractures in 86 patients. There were 82 male and 4 female individuals; average age was 14.7 years (range, 9.0 to 18 y). In total, 87 of 90 were treated with open reduction and internal screw fixation [51 unicortical (59%), 13 mixed (15%), 23 bicortical (26%)] and 3 with percutaneous pinning. All patients were followed-up until healing and postoperative follow-up average was 8 months (range, 3 to 34 mo). There were no significant differences between the 2 groups with regard to patient age (P=0.22), patient weight (P=0.22), and activity clearance times [unicortical: 19.9 wk (range, 10.4 to 42.3 wk); bicortical: 17.7 wk (range, 12.1 to 32 wk); P=0.19]. The mixed cortical group was cleared at an average of 19.9 weeks (range, 10.6 to 29.1 wk). The relative proportion of fracture patterns treated differed negligibly between the unicortical and bicortical groups. Complications were noted in 9 of 90 procedures (10% rate); all subjects showed evidence of full radiographic healing at last follow-up.

CONCLUSIONS: There was no difference in outcome whether unicortical or bicortical fixation was used. All patients exhibited full healing and return to activities with very low-complication rates. The results of this study suggest the adequacy of unicortical fixation for treating tibial tubercle fractures in young athletes.

LEVEL OF EVIDENCE: Level III-retrospective comparative study.

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