Surgical fixation methods for tibial plateau fractures

Iain R. McNamara (Lead Author), Toby O. Smith, Karen L. Shepperd, Allan B. Clark, Dominic M. Nielsen, Simon Donell, Caroline B. Hing

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Background: Fractures of the tibial plateau, which are intra-articular injuries of the knee joint, are often difficult to treat and have a high complication rate, including early-onset osteoarthritis. Surgical fixation is usually used for more complex tibial plateau fractures. Additionally, bone void fillers are often used to address bone defects caused by the injury. Currently there is no consensus on either the best method of fixation or bone void filler.

Objectives: To assess the effects (benefits and harms) of different surgical interventions, and the use of bone void fillers, for treating tibial plateau fractures.

Search methods: We searched the Cochrane Bone, Joint and Muscle Trauma Group Specialised Register (12 September 2014), the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (2014 Issue 8), MEDLINE (1946 to September Week 1 2014), EMBASE (1974 to 2014 Week 36), trial registries (4 July 2014), conference proceedings and grey literature (4 July 2014).

Selection criteria: We included randomised and quasi-randomised controlled clinical trials comparing surgical interventions for treating tibial plateau fractures and the different types of filler for filling bone defects.

Data collection and analysis: Two review authors independently screened search results, selected studies, extracted data and assessed risk of bias. We calculated risk ratios (RR) for dichotomous outcomes and mean differences (MD) for continuous outcomes, with 95% confidence intervals (CIs). Only very limited pooling, using the fixed-effect model, was possible. Our primary outcomes were quality of life measures, patient-reported outcome measures of lower limb function and serious adverse events.

Main results: We included six trials in the review, with a total of 429 adult participants, the majority of whom were male (63%). Three trials evaluated different types of fixation and three analysed different types of bone graft substitutes. All six trials were small and at substantial risk of bias. We judged the quality of most of the available evidence to be very low, meaning that we are very uncertain about these results.

One trial compared the use of a circular fixator combined with insertion of percutaneous screws (hybrid fixation) versus standard open reduction and internal fixation (ORIF) in people with open or closed Schatzker types V or VI tibial plateau fractures. Results (66 participants) for quality of life scores using the 36-item Short Form Health Survey (SF-36)), Hospital for Special Surgery (HSS) scores and Western Ontario and McMaster Universities Osteoarthritis Index (WOMAC) function scores tended to favour hybrid fixation, but a benefit of ORIF could not be ruled out. Participants in the hybrid fixation group had a lower risk for an unplanned reoperation (351 per 1000 people compared with 450 in the ORIF group; 95% CI 197 fewer to 144 more) and were more likely to have returned to their pre-injury activity level (303 per 1000 people, compared with 121 in the ORIF group; 95% CI 15 fewer to 748 more). Results of the two groups were comparable for the WOMAC pain subscale and stiffness scores, but mean knee range of motion values were higher in the hybrid group.

Another trial compared the use of a minimally invasive plate (LISS system) versus double-plating ORIF in 84 people who had open or closed bicondylar tibial plateau fractures. Nearly twice as many participants (22 versus 12) in the ORIF group had a bone graft. Quality of life, pain, knee range of motion and return to pre-injury activity were not reported. The trial provided no evidence of differences in HSS knee scores, complications or reoperation entailing implant removal or revision fixation. A quasi-randomised trial comparing arthroscopically-assisted percutaneous reduction and internal fixation versus standard ORIF reported results at 14 months in 58 people with closed Schatzker types II or III tibial plateau fracture. Quality of life, pain and return to pre-injury activity were not reported. There was very low quality evidence of higher HSS knee scores and higher knee range of motion values in the arthroscopically assisted group. No reoperations were reported.

Three trials compared different types of bone substitute versus autologous bone graft (autograft) for managing bone defects. Quality of life, pain and return to pre-injury activity were not reported. Only one trial (25 participants) reported on lower limb function, finding good or excellent results in both groups for walking, climbing stairs, squatting and jumping at 12 months. The incidences of individual complications were similar between groups in all three trials. One trial found no cases of inflammatory response in the 20 participants receiving bone substitute, and two found no complications associated with the donor site in the autograft group (58 participants). However, all 38 participants in the autologous iliac bone graft group of one trial reported prolonged pain from the harvest site. Two trials reported similar range of motion results in the two groups, whereas the third trial favoured the bone substitute group.

Authors' conclusions: Currently, there is insufficient evidence to ascertain the best method of fixation or the best method of addressing bone defects during surgery. However, the evidence does not contradict approaches aiming to limit soft-tissue dissection and damage or to avoid autograft donor site complications through using bone substitutes. Further well-designed, larger randomised trials are warranted.
Original languageEnglish
Article numberCD009679
JournalCochrane Database of Systematic Reviews
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 15 Sep 2015


  • Knee
  • Surgery
  • Trauma
  • Fractures
  • Tibial Plateau
  • Fixation

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