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© Queen’s Printer and Controller of HMSO 2018. Background: The best treatment for fractures of the distal tibia remains controversial. Most of these fractures require surgical fixation, but the outcomes are unpredictable and complications are common. Objectives: To assess disability, quality of life, complications and resource use in patients treated with intramedullary (IM) nail fixation versus locking plate fixation in the 12 months following a fracture of the distal tibia. Design: This was a multicentre randomised trial. Setting: The trial was conducted in 28 UK acute trauma centres from April 2013 to final follow-up in February 2017. Participants: In total, 321 adult patients were recruited. Participants were excluded if they had open fractures, fractures involving the ankle joint, contraindication to nailing or inability to complete questionnaires. Interventions: IM nail fixation (n = 161), in which a metal rod is inserted into the hollow centre of the tibia, versus locking plate fixation (n = 160), in which a plate is attached to the surface of the tibia with fixed-angle screws. Main outcome measures: The primary outcome measure was the Disability Rating Index (DRI) score, which ranges from 0 points (no disability) to 100 points (complete disability), at 6 months with a minimum clinically important difference of 8 points. The DRI score was also collected at 3 and 12 months. The secondary outcomes were the Olerud-Molander Ankle Score (OMAS), quality of life as measured using EuroQol-5 Dimensions (EQ-5D), complications such as infection, and further surgery. Resource use was collected to inform the health economic evaluation. Results: Participants had a mean age of 45 years (standard deviation 16.2 years), were predominantly male (61%, 197/321) and had experienced traumatic injury after a fall (69%, 223/321). There was no statistically significant difference in DRI score at 6 months [IM nail fixation group, mean 29.8 points, 95% confidence interval (CI) 26.1 to 33.7 points; locking plate group, mean 33.8 points, 95% CI 29.7 to 37.9 points; adjusted difference, 4.0 points, 95% CI -1.0 to 9.0 points; p = 0.11]. There was a statistically significant difference in DRI score at 3 months in favour of IM nail fixation (IM nail fixation group, mean 44.2 points, 95% CI 40.8 to 47.6 points; locking plate group, mean 52.6 points, 95% CI 49.3 to 55.9 points; adjusted difference 8.8 points, 95% CI 4.3 to 13.2 points; p < 0.001), but not at 12 months (IM nail fixation group, mean 23.1 points, 95% CI 18.9 to 27.2 points; locking plate group, 24.0 points, 95% CI 19.7 to 28.3 points; adjusted difference 1.9 points, 95% CI -3.2 to 6.9 points; p = 0.47). Secondary outcomes showed the same pattern, including a statistically significant difference in mean OMAS and EQ-5D scores at 3 and 6 months in favour of IM nail fixation. There were no statistically significant differences in complications, including the number of postoperative infections (13% in the locking plate group and 9% in the IM nail fixation group). Further surgery was more common in the locking plate group (12% in locking plate group and 8% in IM nail fixation group at 12 months). The economic evaluation showed that IM nail fixation provided a slightly higher quality of life in the 12 months after injury and at lower cost and, therefore, it was cost-effective compared with locking plate fixation. The probability of cost-effectiveness for IM nail fixation exceeded 90%, regardless of the value of the cost-effectiveness threshold. Limitations: As wound dressings after surgery are clearly visible, it was not possible to blind the patients to their treatment allocation. This evidence does not apply to intra-articular (pilon) fractures of the distal tibia. Conclusions: Among adults with an acute fracture of the distal tibia who were randomised to IM nail fixation or locking plate fixation, there were similar disability ratings at 6 months. However, recovery across all outcomes was faster in the IM nail fixation group and costs were lower.

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Journal article


Health Technology Assessment

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