Objectives: To compare clinical and functional outcomes after operative and nonoperative treatment of undisplaced, unstable, isolated fibula fractures.
Design: Randomized multicenter clinical trial.
Setting: Six level 1 trauma centers.
Patients/participants: Eighty-one patients with undisplaced, unstable, isolated fibula fractures as confirmed by an external rotation stress examination demonstrating an increase in medial clear space to 5 mm or greater were followed for 12 months after treatment.
Intervention: Forty-one patients were treated operatively by open reduction and internal fixation of the fibula. Forty patients underwent nonoperative treatment, which included the use of a short leg cast or brace and protected weight bearing for 6 weeks.
Main outcome measurements: Functional outcomes determined using the Olerud-Molander Ankle Score and the Short Form 36. Radiographic outcomes included measurement of union and displacement at each visit.
Results: There were no statistically significant differences in functional outcome scores or pace of recovery between the operative and nonoperative groups at any time interval (β = -0.28, 3.49; P = 0.936). Complications in the nonoperative group included 8 patients with a medial clear space ≥5 mm and 8 patients with delayed union or nonunion. In the operative group, 5 patients had a surgical site infection and 5 patients required hardware removal.
Conclusions: Patients managed operatively had equivalent functional outcomes compared with nonoperative treatment; however, the risk of displacement and problems with union was substantially lower in patients managed with surgery.