The relative efficacy of operative and nonoperative treatments for the displaced intra-articular calcaneal fractures (DIACF) remains uncertain.

We conducted a meta-analysis to compare the effectiveness of operative and nonoperative treatments in treating patients with DIACF.

Databases including Cochrane Library, Medline, Embase, CBM, CNKI, and Google Scholar were searched. After independent study selection by 2 authors, data were extracted and collected independently. Comparisons were performed between operative treatment group and nonoperative treatment group. The quality of included studies was assessed using the Newcastle-Ottawa Scale. RevMan 5.3 was used for data analysis. The primary outcome measures were anatomical measures (changes in Böhler angle and calcaneal height and width), functional measures (shoe problems, resuming preinjury work, and residual pain), and complications (including superficial and deep wound infection, skin flap necrosis, neurovascular injury, secondary arthrodesis, reflex sympathetic dystrophy, osteotomy, thromboembolism, and compartment syndromes).

Eighteen trials (8 randomized controlled trials and 10 controlled clinical trials) including 1467 patients were considered. For anatomical measurements, the overall mean differences (MDs) for the mean Böhler angle, calcaneal height and width were 15.39 (95% confidence interval [CI] 9.12-21.67), 6.55 (95% CI 2.67-10.43), and 7.05 (95% CI -7.83 to -6.27), respectively. In functional measures, the overall effect MD of American Orthopedic Foot and Ankle Society was 6.23 (95% CI 5.22-17.67) and 0.38 (95% CI 0.22-0.67). The overall relative risks (RRs) of wearing shoes, resuming preinjury work, and having residual pain were 0.32 (95% CI 0.32-1.00), 0.56 (95% CI 0.40-0.77), and 0.90 (95% CI 0.68-1.20), respectively. The overall RR of the incidence of complications was 2.00 (95% CI 1.51-2.64).

Operative treatment of DIACF may lead to a higher incidence of complications but has better anatomical recovery when compared with nonoperative treatment.