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Detection of radiographically occult ankle fractures following acute trauma: positive predictive value of an ankle effusion.

OBJECTIVE: The purpose of our study was to determine if the presence of an ankle effusion on plain radiographs after acute ankle trauma is predictive of occult ankle fracture when no fracture is visible on the standard radiographic series.

SUBJECTS AND METHODS: The ankle radiographs of 1153 patients with acute ankle trauma were examined for fracture and for the presence and extent of anterior and posterior capsular distension. Patients with ankle effusions but no detectable fracture subsequently underwent sagittal and coronal complex-motion tomography.

RESULTS: Eleven of 33 patients with ankle effusions and otherwise normal plain radiographs had occult fractures identified with tomography. The fracture sites were as follows: osteochondral fracture of talar dome (n = 4), neck of talus (n = 1), medial malleolus (n = 1), anterior tibial rim (n = 1), posterior tibial rim (n = 1), tibial plafond (n = 1), lateral malleolus (n = 1), and anterior process of calcaneus (n = 1). The radiographic size of an ankle effusion was predictive of occult fracture. An ankle effusion measuring 13 mm or more in anterior plus posterior capsular distension had an 82% sensitivity and 91% specificity for underlying fracture in our series. The positive predictive value of an ankle effusion 13 mm or greater was 82%.

CONCLUSION: The presence of an ankle effusion on plain radiographs following acute ankle trauma is suggestive of an underlying fracture. An ankle effusion of 13 mm or greater in total capsular distension has a positive predictive value of 82% for occult fracture and is a reasonable threshold to prompt additional imaging.

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