Intraoperative stress testing is required for the detection of syndesmosis instability following an ankle fracture. The present study compared two stress tests for the detection of syndesmotic injury.

A true mortise radiograph of the ankle was made for fourteen cadaver joints. Specimens were randomized into two groups to simulate ligament and syndesmosis injury on the basis of the Danis-Weber classification system. In the first group, the anterior inferior tibiofibular ligament was divided first (Weber B(r)), followed sequentially by division of the interosseous membrane (Weber C) and the deltoid ligament. In the second group, the deltoid ligament was divided first, followed by the anterior inferior tibiofibular ligament. Radiographs were made at each stage with use of two methods of stressing the ankle mortise: (1) external rotation of the foot with an external moment of 7.5 Nm, and (2) application of a lateral force of 100 N. Tibiofibular overlap, tibiofibular clear space, and medial clear space were measured.

Lateral stress produced a significantly greater increase in the tibiofibular clear space than did the external rotation test for Weber C injuries and Weber C plus deltoid ligament injuries. A greater increase in the tibiofibular clear space was noted during the lateral stress test when both the deltoid and the anterior inferior tibiofibular ligament had been sectioned (p < 0.05). The external rotation stress test produced a significant increase in the medial clear space in the presence of isolated anterior inferior tibiofibular ligament and deltoid ligament injuries (p < 0.05).

For the detection of syndesmotic instability at the site of ankle fractures on stress radiographs, the lateral stress test appeared to be superior to the external rotation stress test in this cadaver model.

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