The Biomechanical Role of the Deltoid Ligament on Ankle Stability: Injury, Repair, and Augmentation

Am J Sports Med. 2023 Aug;51(10):2617-2624. doi: 10.1177/03635465231181082. Epub 2023 Jul 14.


Background: Deltoid ligament injuries occur in isolation as well as with ankle fractures and other ligament injuries. Both operative treatment and nonoperative treatment are used, but debate on optimal treatment continues. Likewise, the best method of surgical repair of the deltoid ligament remains unclear.

Purpose: To determine the biomechanical role of native anterior and posterior components of the deltoid ligament in ankle stability and to determine the efficacy of simple suture versus augmented repair.

Study design: Controlled laboratory study.

Methods: Ten cadaveric ankles (mean age, 51 years; age range, 34-64 years; all male specimens) were mounted on a 6 degrees of freedom robotic arm. Each specimen underwent biomechanical testing in 8 states: (1) intact, (2) anterior deltoid cut, (3) anterior repair, (4) tibiocalcaneal augmentation, (5) deep anterior tibiotalar augmentation, (6) posterior deltoid cut, (7) posterior repair, and (8) complete deltoid cut. Testing consisted of anterior drawer, eversion, and external rotation (ER), each performed at neutral and 25° of plantarflexion. A 1-factor, random-intercepts, linear mixed-effect model was created, and all pairwise comparisons were made between testing states.

Results: Cutting the anterior deltoid introduced ER (+2.1°; P = .009) and eversion laxity (+6.2° of eversion; P < .001) at 25 degrees of plantarflexion. Anterior deltoid repair restored native ER but not eversion. Tibiocalcaneal augmentation reduced eversion laxity, but tibiotalar augmentation provided no additional benefit. The posterior deltoid tear showed no increase in laxity. Complete tear introduced significant anterior translation, ER, and eversion laxity (+7.6 mm of anterior translation, +13.8° ER and +33.6° of eversion; P < .001).

Conclusion: A complete deltoid tear caused severe instability of the ankle joint. Augmented anterior repair was sufficient to stabilize the complete tear, and no additional benefit was provided by posterior repair. For isolated anterior tear, repair with tibiocalcaneal augmentation was the optimal treatment.

Clinical relevance: Deltoid repair with augmentation may reduce or avoid the need for prolonged postoperative immobilization and encourage accelerated rehabilitation, preventing stiffness and promoting earlier return to preinjury activity.

Keywords: ankle instability; deltoid injury; deltoid ligament; repair augmentation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Ankle
  • Ankle Fractures*
  • Ankle Joint / surgery
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Cadaver
  • Humans
  • Joint Instability* / surgery
  • Lacerations*
  • Ligaments, Articular / surgery
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Rupture