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We reviewed the results of the treatment of 30 tibial fractures with minor to severe bone loss in 29 patients by early soft-tissue and bony debridement followed by primary locked intramedullary nailing. Subsequent definitive closure was obtained within the first 48 hours usually with a soft-tissue flap, and followed by bone-grafting procedures which were delayed for six to eight weeks after the primary surgery. The time to fracture union and the eventual functional outcome were related to the severity and extent of bone loss.Twenty-nine fractures were soundly united at a mean of 53.4 weeks, with delayed amputation in only one patient. Poor functional outcome and the occurrence of complications were usually due to a departure from the standard protocol for primary management.We conclude that the protocol produces satisfactory results in the management of these difficult fractures, and that intramedullary nailing offers considerable practical advantages over other methods of primary bone stabilisation.J Bone Joint Surg [Br] 1995;77-B:906-13.