Plate Versus Intramedullary Nail Fixation of Anterior Tibial Stress Fractures: A Biomechanical Study

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Anterior midtibial stress fractures are an important clinical problem for patients engaged in high-intensity military activities or athletic training activities. When nonoperative treatment has failed, intramedullary (IM) nail and plate fixation are 2 surgical options used to arrest the progression of a fatigue fracture and allow bone healing.


A plate will be more effective than an IM nail in preventing the opening of a simulated anterior midtibial stress fracture from tibial bending.

Study Design:

Controlled laboratory study.


Fresh-frozen human tibias were loaded by applying a pure bending moment in the sagittal plane. Thin transverse saw cuts, 50% and 75% of the depth of the anterior tibial cortex, were created at the midtibia to simulate a fatigue fracture. An extensometer spanning the defect was used to measure the fracture opening displacement (FOD) before and after the application of IM nail and plate fixation constructs. IM nails were tested without locking screws, with a proximal screw only, and with proximal and distal screws. Plates were tested with unlocked bicortical screws (standard compression plate) and locked bicortical screws; both plate constructs were tested with the plate edge placed 1 mm from the anterior tibial crest (anterior location) and 5 mm posterior to the crest.


For the 75% saw cut depth, the mean FOD values for all IM nail constructs were 13% to 17% less than those for the saw cut alone; the use of locking screws had no significant effect on the FOD. The mean FOD values for all plate constructs were significantly less than those for all IM nail constructs. The mean FOD values for all plates were 28% to 46% less than those for the saw cut alone. Anterior plate placement significantly decreased mean FOD values for both compression and locked plate constructs, but the mean percentage reductions for locked and unlocked plates were not significantly different from each other for either plate placement. The percentage FOD reductions for all plate constructs and the unlocked IM nail were significantly less with a 50% saw cut depth.


Plate fixation was superior to IM nail fixation in limiting the opening of a simulated midtibial stress fracture, and anterior-posterior placement of the plate was an important variable for this construct.

Clinical Relevance:

Results from these tests can help guide the selection of fixation hardware for patients requiring surgical treatment for a midtibial stress fracture.

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