Operative vs Nonoperative Management of Unstable Medial Malleolus Fractures: A Randomized Clinical Trial

Thomas H Carter, William M Oliver, Katrina R Bell, Catriona Graham, Andrew D Duckworth, Timothy O White

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

IMPORTANCE: Unstable ankle fractures are routinely managed operatively. However, because of soft tissue and implant-related complications, recent literature has reported on the nonoperative management of well-reduced medial malleolus fractures after fibular stabilization, but with limited evidence supporting the routine application.

OBJECTIVE: To assess the superiority of internal fixation of well-reduced (displacement ≤2 mm) medial malleolus fractures compared with nonfixation after fibular stabilization.

DESIGN, SETTING, AND PARTICIPANTS: This superiority, pragmatic, parallel, prospective randomized clinical trial was conducted from October 1, 2017, to August 31, 2021. A total of 154 adult participants (≥16 years) with a closed, unstable bimalleolar or trimalleolar ankle fracture requiring surgery at an academic major trauma center in the UK were assessed. Exclusion criteria included injuries with no medial-sided fracture, open fractures, neurovascular injury, and the inability to comply with follow-up. Data analysis was performed in July 2022 and confirmed in September 2023.

INTERVENTIONS: Once the lateral (and where appropriate, posterior) malleolus had been fixed and satisfactory intraoperative reduction of the medial malleolus fracture was confirmed by the operating surgeon, participants were randomly allocated to fixation (n = 78) or nonfixation (n = 76) of the medial malleolus.

MAIN OUTCOME AND MEASURE: Olerud-Molander Ankle Score (OMAS) 1 year after randomization (range, 0-100 points, with 0 indicating worst possible outcome and 100 indicating best possible outcome).

RESULTS: Among 154 randomized participants (mean [SD] age, 56.5 [16.7] years; 119 [77%] female), 144 (94%) completed the trial. At 1 year, the median OMAS was 80.0 (IQR, 60.0-90.0) in the fixation group compared with 72.5 (IQR, 55.0-90.0) in the nonfixation group (P = .17). Complication rates were comparable. Significantly more patients in the nonfixation group developed a radiographic nonunion (20% vs 0%; P < .001), with 8 of 13 clinically asymptomatic; 1 patient required surgical reintervention for this. Fracture type and reduction quality appeared to influence fracture union and patient outcome.

CONCLUSIONS AND RELEVANCE: In this randomized clinical trial comparing internal fixation of well-reduced medial malleolus fractures with nonfixation, after fibular stabilization, fixation was not superior according to the primary outcome. However, 1 in 5 patients developed a radiographic nonunion after nonfixation, and although the reintervention rate to manage this was low, the future implications are unknown. These results support selective nonfixation of anatomically reduced medial malleolar fractures after fibular stabilization.

TRIAL REGISTRATION: ClinicalTrials.gov Identifier: NCT03362229.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere2351308
Number of pages13
JournalJAMA network open
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2 Jan 2024

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • Adult
  • Humans
  • Female
  • Middle Aged
  • Male
  • Ankle Fractures/surgery
  • Prospective Studies
  • Data Analysis
  • Fracture Fixation, Internal
  • Postoperative Complications


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