Trajectory of Short- and Long-Term Recovery of Tibial Shaft Fractures After Intramedullary Nail Fixation

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To determine the trajectory of recovery after tibial shaft fracture treated with intramedullary nail over the first 5 years and to evaluate the magnitude of the changes in functional outcome at various time intervals.


Prospective cohort study.


A Level 1 trauma center.


One hundred thirty-two patients with tibial shaft fracture (OTA 42-A, B, C) were enrolled into the Center's prospective orthopaedic trauma database between January 2005 and February 2010. Functional outcome data were collected at baseline, 6 months, 1 year, and 5 years.


Enrolled patients were treated acutely with intramedullary nailing of their tibia.

Main Outcome Measurements:

Evaluation was performed using the Short Form-36 and Short Musculoskeletal Function Assessment (SMFA).


Mean SF-36 physical component scores improved between 6 and 12 months (P = 0.0008) and between 1 and 5 years (P = 0.0029). Similarly, mean SMFA dysfunction index scores improved between 6 and 12 months (P = 0.0254) and between 1 and 5 years (P = 0.0106). In both scores, the rate or slope of this improvement is flatter between 1 and 5 years than it is between 6 and 12 months. Furthermore, SF-36 and SMFA scores did not reach baseline at 5 years (SF-36 P < 0.0001, SMFA P = 0.0026). A significant proportion of patients were still achieving a minimal clinically important difference in function between 1 and 5 years (SF-36 = 54%, SMFA = 44%).


The trajectory of functional recovery after tibial shaft fracture is characterized by an initial decline in function, followed by improvement between 6 and 12 months. There is still further improvement beyond 1 year, but this is of flatter trajectory. The 5-year results indicate that function does not improve to baseline by 5 years after injury.

Level of Evidence:

Prognostic Level IV. See Instructions for Authors for a complete description of levels of evidence.

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