Ankle Stress Test for Predicting the Need for Surgical Fixation of Isolated Fibular Fractures

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The purpose of this study was to confirm the prevalence of medial ankle widening among patients with an isolated fibular fracture and to determine the functional outcome of nonoperative treatment despite a diagnosis of a supination-external rotation stage-IV injury based on stress radiography.


One hundred and one patients with evidence of an isolated fibular fracture and an intact mortise seen on a standard ankle trauma radiograph series were evaluated with stress radiographs. Clinical signs were recorded at the time of presentation. A positive stress test was defined as ≥4 mm of widening of the medial clear space. Patients with a negative stress test were treated nonoperatively, those with a positive stress test and clinical signs of medial injury were treated surgically, and those with a positive stress test and no signs of medial injury were treated according to the preference of the surgeon and patient. The patients were followed prospectively with radiographs and ankle outcome scores.


Sixty-six (65%) of the 101 patients had a positive stress radiograph. Thirty-six of them had signs of medial injury, and thirty had no medial injury. With regard to predicting a positive stress radiograph, medial tenderness had a sensitivity of 56% and a specificity of 80%, swelling had a sensitivity of 55% and a specificity of 71%, and ecchymosis had a sensitivity of 26% and a specificity of 91%. Of the subset of patients without signs of medial injury, twenty were treated nonoperatively (group I) and ten were treated operatively (group II). Two of the twenty patients in group I had evidence of persistent widening of the medial clear space at the time of the latest follow-up (mean, 7.4 months); only one of those patients was symptomatic. The average American Orthopaedic Foot and Ankle Society (AOFAS) score was 94 points in group I and 93 points in group II.


We found a high rate of positive stress radiographs for patients who presented with an isolated fibular fracture and an intact ankle mortise on the initial radiographs. Medial tenderness, swelling, and ecchymosis were not sensitive with regard to predicting widening of the medial clear space on stress radiographs. All of the patients with a positive stress radiograph and no clinical symptoms who were treated without surgery had a good or excellent clinical result.

Level of Evidence:

Diagnostic study, Level II-1 (development of diagnostic criteria on basis of consecutive patients [with universally applied reference “gold” standard]). See Instructions to Authors for a complete description of levels of evidence.

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