The treatment of segmental tibial fractures: does patient preference differ from surgeon choice?

Z. Little, T.O. Smith, S.E. McMahon, C. Cooper, A. Trompeter, M. Pearse, S. Britten, B. Rogers, H. Sharma, B. Narayan, M. Costa, D.J. Beard, C.B. Hing

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INTRODUCTION: Segmental tibial fractures are complex injuries with a prolonged recovery time. Current definitive treatment options include intramedullary fixation or a circular external fixator. However, there is uncertainty as to which surgical option is preferable and there are no sufficiently rigorous multi-centre trials that have answered this question. The objective of this study was to determine whether patient and surgeon opinion was permissive for a randomised controlled trial (RCT) comparing intramedullary nailing to the application of a circular external fixator.

MATERIALS AND METHODS: A convenience questionnaire survey of attending surgeons was conducted during the United Kingdom’s Orthopaedic Trauma Society annual meeting 2017 to determine the treatment modalities used for a segmental tibial fracture (n = 63). Patient opinion was obtained from clinical patients who had been treated for a segmental tibial fracture as part of a patient and public involvement focus group with questions covering the domains of surgical preference, treatment expectations, outcome, the consent process and follow-up regime (n = 5).

RESULTS: Based on the surgeon survey, 39% routinely use circular frame fixation following segmental tibial fracture compared to 61% who use nail fixation. Nail fixation was reported as the treatment of choice for a closed injury in a healthy patient in 81% of surgeons, and by 86% for a patient with a closed fracture who was obese. Twenty-one percent reported that they would use a nail for an open segmental tibia fracture in diabetics who smoked, whilst 57% would opt for a nail for a closed injury with compartment syndrome, and only 27% would use a nail for an open segmental injury in a young fit sports person. The patient and public preference exercise identified that sleep, early functional outcomes and psychosocial measures of outcomes are important.

CONCLUSION: We concluded that a RCT comparing definitive fixation with an intramedullary nail and a circular external fixator is justified as there remains uncertainty on the optimal surgical management for segmental tibial fractures. Furthermore, psychosocial factors and early post-operative outcomes should be reported as core outcome measures as part of such a trial.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2306-2310
Number of pages5
Issue number10
Early online date9 Aug 2017
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2017


  • tibia
  • segmental
  • fracture
  • surgeon
  • preference
  • trial

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