Background: Diagnosis and reduction of syndesmosis injuries in ankle fractures can be challenging. Previous studies have demonstrated that standard radiographic measurements used to evaluate the integrity of the syndesmosis are inaccurate. The purpose of this study was to determine the adequacy of standard postoperative radiographic measurements in assessing syndesmotic reduction compared to CT and to determine the prevalence of postoperative syndesmotic malreduction in a patient cohort.
Methods: Twenty-five patients with ankle fractures and syndesmotic instability who had open reduction and syndesmotic fixation were evaluated. All patients had a standard radiographic series postoperatively followed by a CT scan. Radiographic measurements were made by three observers to determine the tibiofibular relationship. Axial CT scan images were judged for quality of reduction of the syndesmosis by measuring the distance between the fibula and the anterior and posterior facets of the incisura. Differences between the anterior and posterior measurements of more than 2 mm were considered incongruous.
Results: Six patients (24%) had evidence of postoperative diastasis using the radiographic criteria, four of whom had evidence of malreduction on postoperative CT scan. Conversely, 13 patients (52%) had incongruity of the fibula within the incisura on CT scan (average 3.6 mm, range 2.0 to 8.0 mm), only four of whom had one or more abnormal radiographic measurements. In 10 (77%) of the 13 malreductions seen on CT scan, the posterior measurement was greater, indicating that internal rotation or anterior translation of the fibula may have occurred. Sensitivity of radiographs was 31% and the specificity was 83% compared to CT.
Conclusions: Many syndesmoses were malreduced on CT scan but went undetected by plain radiographs. Radiographic measurements did not accurately reflect the status of the distal tibiofibular joint in this series of ankle fractures. Furthermore, postreduction radiographic measurements were inaccurate for assessing the quality of the reduction. Although we did not seek to correlate functional outcomes, the known morbidity of postoperative syndesmotic malreduction should lead to heightened vigilance for assessing accurate syndesmosis reduction intraoperatively.