Tibial shaft fractures in the adolescents: treatment outcomes and the risk factors for complications

Injury. 2022 Feb;53(2):706-712. doi: 10.1016/j.injury.2021.11.041. Epub 2021 Nov 17.


Background: Tibial shaft fractures are common injuries in the adolescent age group. The optimal method of treatment in this age group is still controversial. It relies on several factors including patient's age, fracture pattern, fracture location, and the condition of the soft tissue envelope. The purpose of this study was to report the clinical and radiographic outcomes of adolescent tibial shaft fractures treatment at a level-I trauma center.

Methods: This retrospective study reviewed consecutive patients between 10 and 18 years of age who suffered from tibial shaft fractures between 2009 and 2018 at a level-I trauma center. Outcomes of interest were the successful fracture union (primary outcome) as evaluated by the Radiographic Union Scale in Tibial fractures (RUST) and the complications (secondary outcomes).

Results: Fifty-two consecutive adolescent patients treated for tibial shaft fractures using elastic stable intramedullary nails (ESIN), interlocking nails, plates and screws, external fixators, and casts were included in the study. The mean follow-up period was 27.4 months. There was no statistically significant difference in the union rate and time to fracture union between the different treatment methods. Subject weight, fracture type, and method of treatment were significant predictors for the RUST scores at 12 weeks post-operative. Adolescents with heavier bodyweight correlated with lower RUST scores (p<0.001). Open fractures were associated with significantly longer time to union (p<0.001) and lower RUST scores (p<0.001) compared to closed fractures. The patients treated with interlocking nailing showed higher RUST scores than the casting treatment group (p = 0.01). There were no statistically significant differences in complication rates between the fixation methods. Union time was significantly longer with complications than without complications (p = 0.01). Open fractures had higher complication rates compared to closed fractures. In the multivariate logistic model, patients with open fracture were 5.5 times more likely to have complications (OR=5.46; p = 0.04).

Conclusion: Tibial shaft fractures in adolescents can be treated with several methods including ESIN, interlocking nail, plate and screws, external fixation, and casting. All are valid treatments for adolescent tibial shaft fractures and can achieve favorable outcomes. No single treatment method applies to all patients. Each method has advantages, disadvantages, and specific indications.

Keywords: Adolescent tibia; Flexible nails; Fractures; Hexapod ring fixators; Intramedullary nailing; Plate fixation; Ring external fixators.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Bone Nails
  • Fracture Fixation, Intramedullary*
  • Fracture Healing
  • Humans
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Risk Factors
  • Tibial Fractures* / diagnostic imaging
  • Tibial Fractures* / surgery
  • Treatment Outcome