Early Knee Range of Motion Following Operative Treatment for Tibial Tubercle Avulsion Fractures Is Safe

Kevin Huang, Nathan Houlihan, Alexandre Arkader, John M Flynn, Brendan A Williams
Journal of Pediatric Orthopedics 2022 August 15

BACKGROUND: Tibial tubercle avulsion fractures (TTAF) often require surgical reduction and stabilization. Traditional teachings recommend postoperative knee immobilization for 4 to 6 weeks; however, the necessity of these restrictions is unclear and the actual practice varies. This study's purpose was to: (1) retrospectively review operatively managed TTAFs at a single center to examine the spectrum of postoperative rehabilitation guidelines, and (2) compare the outcomes of patients based on the timing of initiation of postoperative knee range of motion (ROM).

METHODS: Operatively managed TTAFs treated at a single center from 2011-2020 were identified. Patients with polytrauma, associated lower extremity compartment syndrome, or treatment other than screw fixation were excluded. Patient demographics, mechanism of injury, Ogden Classification, associated injuries, operative technique, postoperative ROM progression, and time to release to unrestricted activities were collected. Patients were grouped based on the initiation of postoperative ROM as Early (<4 wk, EROM) or Late (≥4 wk, LROM). Bivariate analysis was used to compare characteristics between these 2 groups.

RESULTS: Study criteria identified 134 patients, 93.3% (n=125) of whom were male. The mean age of the cohort was 14.77 years [95% confidence interval (CI: 14.5 to 15.0]. Forty-nine patients were designated EROM; 85 patients were categorized as LROM. The groups did not differ significantly with regards to age, race, injury characteristics, or surgical technique. Both groups progressed similarly with regards to postoperative range of motion. Ultimate activity clearance was achieved at ~20 weeks postoperatively without differences between groups (P>0.05). Four instances of postoperative complication were identified, all of which occurred in the LROM group.

CONCLUSION: A broad range of postoperative immobilization protocols exists following the screw fixation of TTAFs. Across otherwise similar cohorts of patients undergoing operative treatment, initiation of knee range of motion before 4 weeks was without complication and provided equivalent outcomes to traditional immobilization practices. Given the clear benefits to patients and caregivers provided by the permission of early knee motion and the avoidance of casting, providers should consider more progressive postoperative rehab protocols following operatively treated TTAFs.

LEVEL OF EVIDENCE: Level III, Retrospective Cohort.

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