Charcot neuroarthropathy of the ankle joint is a destructive process that leads to instability and significant morbidity that can end with amputation. Surgical arthrodesis in Charcot neuroarthropathy has a high failure rate. The aim of the present prospective study was to compare the outcomes of an Ilizarov external fixator and retrograde intramedullary nailing (IMN) for tibiotalar arthrodesis in Charcot neuroarthropathy. From February 2010 to October 2013, 27 patients (16 males and 11 females) with Charcot neuropathy of the ankle joint were treated in our department. Their ages ranged from 32 to 75 (average 54) years. Of the 27 patients, 14 received an Ilizarov external fixator and 13 underwent IMN. A preoperative clinical and radiologic assessment of all patients was performed. The outcomes were measured for bone union, development of complications, and clinical follow-up. The mean score of modified American Orthopaedic Foot and Ankle Society ankle hindfoot scale was 80 ± 2.7 points in the Ilizarov group and 75 ± 1.9 points in the IMN group. In the Ilizarov group, 12 of 14 patients achieved union, and in the IMN group, 10 of 13 patients achieved union. The complication rate was significantly greater in the external fixator group than in the IMN group. The complications in the Ilizarov group included nonunion in 2 patients (14%), pin tract infection in 8 (57%), pin tract loosening in 3 (21%), surgical wound infection in 3 (21%), and wound breakdown in 1 patient (7%). In the IMN group, nonunion occurred in 3 patients (23.1%), back-out of a distal locking bolt in 2 (15.4 %), and a superficial wound infection that resolved with antibiotics in 1 patient (7.7%). In conclusion, retrograde IMN and the Ilizarov external fixator both yielded better union for tibiotalar arthrodesis in Charcot neuroarthropathy. The Ilizarov external fixator resulted in a greater union rate than IMN but the complications with external fixation were significantly greater than those with IMN.
Level of Clinical Evidence: 4