Ability of modern distal tibia plates to stabilize comminuted pilon fracture fragments: Is dual plate fixation necessary?
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OBJECTIVES: The purpose of this study was to examine the screw trajectory of ten commercially available distal tibia plates and compare them to common fracture patterns seen in OTA C type pilon fractures to determine their ability to stabilize the three most common fracture fragments while buttressing anterolateral zones of comminution. HYPOTHESIS: We hypothesized that a single plate for the distal tibia would fail to adequately stabilize all three main fracture fragments and zones of comminution in complex pilon fractures. METHODS: Ten synthetic distal tibia sawbones models were used in conjunction with ten different locking distal tibia plate designs from three manufacturers (Depuy Synthes, J&J Co, Paoli, PA; Smith & Nephew, Memphis, TN; and Stryker, Mawa, NJ). Both medial and anterolateral plates from each company were utilized and separately applied to an individual sawbone model. Three implants allowing variable angle screw placement were used. The location of the locking screws and buttress effect 1cm above the articular surface was noted for each implant using axial computed tomography (CT). The images were then compared to a recently published "pilon fracture map" using an overlay technique to establish the relationship between screw location and known common fracture lines and areas of comminution. Each of the three main fragments was considered "captured" by a screw if it was purchased by at least two screws thereby controlling rotational forces on each fragment. RESULTS: Three of four anterolateral plates lacked stable fixation in the medial fragment. Of the 4 anterolateral plates used, only the variable angle anterolateral plate by Depuy Synthes captured the medial fragment with two screws. All four anterolateral plates buttressed the area of highest comminution and had an average of 1.25 screws in the medial fragment and an average of 3 screws in the posterolateral fragment. All five direct medial plates had variable fixation within anterolateral and posterolateral fragments with an average of 1.8 screws in the anterolateral fragment and an average of 1.3 screws in the posterolateral fragment. The Depuy Synthes variable angle anterolateral plate allowed for fixation of the medial fragment with two screws while simultaneously buttressing the zone of highest comminution and capturing both the anterolateral and posterolateral fragments with five and three screws respectively. The variable angle anteromedial plate by Depuy Synthes captured all three main fracture fragments but it did not buttress the anterolateral zone of comminution. CONCLUSION: In OTA 43C type pilon fractures, 8 out of 10 studied commercially available implants precontoured for the distal tibia, do not adequately stabilize the three primary fracture fragments typically seen in these injuries. Anterolateral plates were superior in addressing the coronal primary fracture line across the apex of the plafond, and buttressing the zone of comminution. None of the available plates can substitute for an understanding of the fracture planes and fragments typically seen in complex intra-articular tibia fractures and the addition of a second plate is necessary for adequate stability.
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