A Biomechanical Evaluation to Optimize the Configuration of a Hinged External Fixator for the Primary Treatment of Severely Displaced Intraarticular Calcaneus Fractures with Soft Tissue Damage

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The purpose of this investigation was to develop an optimized hinged external fixator for the primary treatment of dislocated, intra-articular calcaneus fractures with associated soft tissue damage. To this end, a calcaneus model was made out of a polyurethane block, and a steel cylinder served as the ankle joint and was connected to a synthetic model of the tibia via a metal clamp. A saw cut served as the fracture in the model. A Steinmann nail and Schanz screw were placed in defined positions in the model and connected medially and laterally with longitudinal support rods. The fixator allowed a total of 20° of plantar- and dorsiflexion, with rotation in the virtual axis of the upper ankle joint. Changes in the model fracture were measured during cyclical strain, and at different screw positions in the model tibia and calcaneus. Miniature force sensors located on the longitudinal support rods, and a plantar tension spring, were used to measure pressure and tension. Reproducible values were determined and, with the optimal configuration, shifting within the osteotomy was minimal. In the experimental configuration, optimal tibial screw placement was 70 mm proximal to the rotation axis of the upper ankle joint, and optimal placement of the Steinmann nail was in the posterior surface of the calcaneus. These findings indicated that the hinged fixator allows 20° of ankle movement without alteration of the rotation axis, and suggest that this type of external fixator can be used in all types of calcaneal fracture regardless of the soft tissue damage. ACFAS Level of Clinical Evidence: 5c.

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