Background: Posttraumatic osteoarthritis (PTOA) is a common and early sequela of tibial pilon fractures resulting in substantial long-term disability. New approaches are needed to objectively and reliably quantify early disease progression in order to critically assess the impact of interventions aimed at preventing or mitigating PTOA. Weight-bearing computed tomography (WBCT) scans provide a means for measuring joint space while the ankle is in a loaded, functional position. We assessed the interrater and intrarater reliability of a standardized, regional method to quantify joint-space loss following tibial pilon fracture compared with the uninjured contralateral ankle.
Methods: We prospectively enrolled 20 patients with intra-articular tibial pilon fractures that were surgically treated at 1 of 2 level-I trauma centers. Six months after injury, bilateral ankle WBCT scans were obtained. Joint space was measured by 4 reviewers at 9 discrete regions of the tibiotalar articulation on sagittal images. Measurements were repeated by reviewers 2 weeks later. To characterize the measurement method, interrater correlation coefficient estimates and test-retest reproducibility were calculated.
Results: The mean tibiotalar joint space was 21% less in the injured ankles compared with the contralateral uninjured ankles (p < 0.0001). The middle-lateral and middle-central regions of the joint demonstrated the greatest decrease in joint space between injured and uninured ankles. The interrater correlation coefficient of the measurement technique was 0.88, and the test-retest reproducibility was 0.80, indicating good reliability and reproducibility of the method.
Conclusions: We developed a simple, standardized, and reliable technique to quantify tibiotalar joint space following tibial pilon fracture on WBCT. Significant loss of joint space is seen 6 months after the injury. This tool can be used to longitudinally quantify loss of joint space following pilon fracture and assess the impact of interventions to reduce PTOA.