The main difficulties encountered in the orthopedic treatment of leg fractures with intact fibula are reduction of the tibial and an unusually high rate of varus unions and non-unions. The aim of this retrospective study was to assess the outcome after reamed nailing of tibial fractures with an intact fibula.

Between 1986 and 1997, 38 fractures of the tibia with an intact fibula were treated by first intention centromedullar nailing. There were 28 men and 10 women, mean age 28 years, with a single fracture in 25 cases. There were 25 motor vehicle accidents (17 two-wheel, 8 four-wheel), 5 sports accidents, 2 home falls, and 6 others. Fracture of the tibial diaphysis was associated with a homolateral femoral fracture in 7 cases, 7 fractures were open (7 type 1, 2 type 2, 1 type 3), 7 fractures were associated with abrasive skin lesions. Using the AO classification, the tibial fracture was type A in 26 cases, type B in 11, and type C in 1. The fracture was in the middle third of the tibia in 21 cases, the distal third in 15 and in the proximal third. Grosse and Kempf nails were used exclusively. Static nailing was used in 27 cases, dynamic nailing in 8, and the nail was not locked in 3 cases. Nails of diameter 9 to 13 were implanted after reaming 1 mm more.

The fracture gap increased during the reaming in 5 patients; 2 patients had to undergo a secondary aponeurectomy due to a postoperative compartment syndrome and had no further sequela. Consolidation was achieved after the first intention treatment in 30 patients, after dynamization in 6. A non-union in 2 patients was also successfully managed with new nailing and dynamization. Delay to consolidation was a mean 175 days (range 60 - 480). Transverse fractures consolidated more rapidly (mean 122 days). At last follow-up (minimum 1 year), active knee and ankle mobility were normal in all patients. Nineteen patients complained of pain at the site of the nail insertion, evaluated at 1 on a 10-point analogie scale by 10 of them and at 2 by the 9 others. Eight out of 10 patients felt cure had been achieved 5 months postoperatively.

These rapidly obtained clinical results and the relatively low rate of non-union (5 p. 100) should be attributed to the reamed nailing technique. We discuss the frequency of tibial fractures with intact fibula and the underlying circumstances. The lack of patent fibular fracture does not signify the fibula is intact. Trauma-induced tibio-fibular dislocation (1 case in our series) can occur. A review of the literature emphasizes the frequency of non unions and misalignment after orthopedic treatment. The most widely used surgical technique is reamed nailing. This technique has the inconvenience of possible pain at the insertion site which usually disappears after ablation of the nail and also a compartment syndrome where reaming is a possible aggravating factor.

Nailing is a reliable technique for the treatment of tibial fractures with an intact fibula. Weight bearing should be encouraged as early as possible. The indication for a locked nail depends on the anatomic type of the tibial fracture and its localization. Immediate weight bearing should be recommended. Strict surveillance allows dynamization with fibulotomy in case of late consolidation. Prospective randomized studies comparing nailing with other therapeutic methods are needed to confirm these data.

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