Complications Associated With the Posterolateral Approach for Pilon Fractures

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Objective:To review the complication rates of open reduction and internal fixation (ORIF) of tibial pilon fractures using the posterolateral approach.Design:Retrospective review.Setting:Two level I trauma centers.Patients:Nineteen consecutive pilon fractures at an average of 13 (range, 13-45) months follow-up. Average age 46 (range, 21-72) years. Four of 19 were open fractures.Intervention:Because of the high incidence of wound complications associated with the anterior approach for pilon fractures, patients were treated with initial temporary external fixation followed by delayed ORIF through the posterolateral approach to the distal tibia. The hypothesis was that the abundant soft-tissue coverage of the posterior distal tibia would decrease the rate of wound complications.Main Outcome Measurements:The incidence of wound complications, nonunion, and early posttraumatic arthritis. This was a chart and radiograph retrospective review.Results:The mean time to definitive treatment was 13 (range 2-30) days. Nine of 19 patients (47%) developed complications. There were 6 patients with wound problems, 2 patients with aseptic nonunions, 2 patients with infected nonunions, 3 tibiotalar fusions, and 1 patient with a 3-mm step off. In total, there were 14 major complications in 9 patients. Ten of 19 patients did not have any complication.Conclusions:The posterolateral approach does not eliminate the complications common to other approaches, but does offer a potential alternative when soft tissue concerns prevent other approaches. We do not recommend the posterolateral approach for the routine treatment of tibial pilon fractures.

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