Background: Isolated medial malleolus fractures are typically treated operatively to minimize the potential for articular incongruity, instability, nonunion, and posttraumatic arthritis. The literature, however, has not clearly demonstrated inferior outcomes with conservative treatment of these injuries. This study measured the effects of medial malleolus fracture and its resultant instability on tibiotalar joint contact characteristics. We hypothesized that restoration of anatomical alignment and stability through fixation would significantly improve contact characteristics.
Methods: A Tekscan pressure sensor was inserted and centered over the talar dome in 8 cadaveric foot and ankle specimens. Each specimen was loaded at 700 N in multiple coronal and sagittal plane orientations. After testing fractured samples, the medial malleolus was anatomically fixed before repeat testing. Contact area and pressure were analyzed using a 2-way repeated-measure ANOVA.
Results: In treated fractures, contact areas were higher, and mean contact pressures were lower for all positions. These differences were statistically significant in the majority of orientations and approached statistical significance in pure plantarflexion and pure inversion. Decreases in contact area varied from 15.1% to 42.1%, with the most dramatic reductions in positions of hindfoot eversion.
Conclusions: These data emphasize the importance of the medial malleolus in maintaining normal tibiotalar contact area and pressure. The average decrease in contact area after simulated medial malleolar fractures was 27.8% (>40% in positions of hindfoot eversion). Such differences become clinically relevant in cases of medial malleolar nonunion or malunion. Therefore, we recommend anatomical reduction and fixation of medial malleolus fractures with any displacement.
Level of evidence: Therapeutic Level V-Cadaveric Study.
Keywords: ankle; contact characteristics; medial malleolar fracture; medial malleolus; tibiotalar joint.
© 2014 The Author(s).