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BACKGROUND: Comminuted intra-articular tibial pilon fractures can be challenging to manage, with high revision rates and poor functional outcomes. This study reviewed [1] treatment, complications, and clinical outcomes in studies of complex comminuted tibial pilon fractures (type AO43-C3); and [2] primary ankle arthrodesis as a management option for these types of complex injuries.

METHODS: A systematic literature search was performed on PubMed from 1990 to 2020 to determine complications and outcomes after staged fracture fixation and primary ankle joint arthrodesis for comminuted C3-type tibial pilon fractures. The search was conducted in compliance with the PRISMA guidelines, using the following MeSH terms: "tibial pilon"/"pilon fracture"/"plafond fracture"/"distal tibial"/"43-C3"/"ankle fracture"/"ankle fusion"/"primary ankle arthrodesis"/"pilon fracture staged"/"pilon external fixation" and "pilon open reduction internal fixation." Inclusion criteria were restricted to original articles in English language on adult patients ≥18 years of age. Eligibility criteria for retrieved publications were determined using a "PICO" approach (population, intervention/exposure, comparison, outcomes). Weighted analysis was used to compare treatment groups on time to definitive treatment, follow-up time, range of motion, fracture classification, and complications.

RESULTS: The systematic literature review using the defined MeSH terms yielded 72 original articles. Of these, 13 articles met the eligibility criteria based on the PICO statements, of which 8 publications investigated the outcomes of a staged fixation approach in 308 cumulative patients, and 5 articles focused on primary ankle arthrodesis in 69 cumulative patients. For staged treatment, the mean wound complication rate was 14.6%, and the malunion/nonunion rate was 9.9%. For primary arthrodesis, the mean wound complication rate was 2.9%, and the malunion/nonunion rate was 2.9%. After risk stratification for fracture type and severity, the small cumulative cohort of patients included in the primary arthrodesis publications did not provide sufficient power to determine a clinically relevant difference in complications and long-term patient outcomes compared to the staged surgical fixation group.

CONCLUSIONS: At present, there is insufficient evidence in the published literature to provide guidance towards consideration of ankle arthrodesis for complex comminuted C3-type tibial pilon fractures, compared to the standard treatment by staged surgical fracture fixation.


This article was published in Patient Safety in Surgery, Volume 15, Issue 1.

The published version is available at

Copyright © 2021 The Author(s). CC BY 4.0.

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Patient Safety in Surgery

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