Fracture-dislocations of the tarsometatarsal (Lisfranc) joints are frequently overlooked or misdiagnosed at initial presentation. This is a comparative cohort study over a period of five years comparing primary open reduction and internal fixation in 22 patients (23 feet) with secondary corrective arthrodesis in 22 patients (22 feet) who presented with painful malunion at a mean of 22 months (1.5 to 45) after injury. In the first group primary treatment by open reduction and internal fixation for eight weeks with Kirschner-wires or screws was undertaken, in the second group treatment was by secondary corrective arthrodesis. There was one deep infection in the first group. In the delayed group there was one complete and one partial nonunion. In each group 20 patients were available for follow-up at a mean of 36 months (24 to 89) after operation. The mean American Orthopaedic Foot and Ankle Society midfoot score was 81.4 (62 to 100) after primary treatment and 71.8 (35 to 88) after corrective arthrodesis (t-test; p = 0.031). We conclude that primary treatment by open reduction and internal fixation of tarsometatarsal fracture-dislocations leads to improved functional results, earlier return to work and greater patient satisfaction than secondary corrective arthrodesis, which remains a useful salvage procedure providing significant relief of pain and improvement in function.