Optimizing Long-Term Outcomes and Avoiding Failure With the Fibula Intramedullary Nail

J Orthop Trauma. 2019 Apr;33(4):189-195. doi: 10.1097/BOT.0000000000001379.


Objectives: To identify risk factors for fixation failure, report patient outcomes, and advise on modifications to the surgical technique for fibula nail stabilization of unstable ankle fractures.

Design: Retrospective review.

Setting: Academic orthopaedic trauma unit.

Patients: All 342 patients were identified retrospectively from a prospectively collected single-center trauma database over a 9-year period.

Intervention: Unstable ankle fractures managed surgically with a fibula nail.

Main outcome measurements: The primary short-term outcome was failure, defined as any case that required revision surgery because of an inadequate mechanical construct. The mid-term outcomes included the Olerud-Molander Ankle Score and the Manchester-Oxford Foot Questionnaire.

Results: Twenty failures occurred (6%), of which 7 (2%) were due to device failure and 13 (4%) due to surgeon error. Of the surgeon errors, 8 consisted of inappropriate weight-bearing after syndesmotic diastasis, and 5 were due to inadequate fracture reduction or poor nail placement. Proximal locking screw (PLS) pull-out was the cause of all device failures. Positioning the PLS >20 mm above the plafond significantly increased failure risk (P = 0.003). At a mean follow-up of 5.1 years (range, 8 months-8 years) the median Olerud-Molander Ankle Score and Manchester-Oxford Foot Questionnaire were 80 (interquartile range, 45) and 10.94 (interquartile range, 44.00), respectively. Patient outcome was not negatively affected by the requirement for revision surgery.

Conclusions: The fibula nail offers secure fixation and good patient-reported outcomes for unstable ankle fractures. Appropriate postoperative management and surgical technique, including careful placement of the PLS, is essential to minimize construct failure risk.

Level of evidence: Therapeutic Level IV. See Instructions for Authors for a complete description of levels of evidence.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Ankle Fractures / surgery*
  • Bone Nails*
  • Bone Screws*
  • Female
  • Fracture Fixation, Intramedullary / instrumentation*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Risk Assessment
  • Risk Factors
  • Treatment Failure*
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Young Adult