Circular external fixation in the management of tibial plateau fractures in patients over the age of 55 years


  • Editorial Office
  • L C Marais University of KwaZulu-Natal
  • N Ferreira Stellenbosch University


tibial plateau, fracture, circular fixator, external fixation, Ilizarov, osteoporosis, geriatric, elderly


Introduction: Tibial plateau fractures in the elderly pose significant treatment challenges because of coexisting medical problems, pre-existing degenerative joint disease and osteoporosis. While several studies have reported promising results with the use of circular external fixation, little data is available on its use in older patients. This study aims to compare the complications and union rate of circular external fixation in patients over the age of 55 years with that achieved in younger patients.
Materials and methods: We retrospectively reviewed all patients treated with circular external fixation over a six-year period. Patients were divided in two groups: Group 1 consisted of patients under the age of 55 years and Group 2 of patients 55 years and older. Group 1 consisted of 63 cases (mean age 37.2 ± 9.1 years and Group 2 of 16 cases (mean age 60.2 ± 5.8 years). Apart from the patient age, there was no significant difference between the two groups in terms of demographics, mechanism of injury (p-value = 0.9) or the prevalence of polytrauma (p=1.0).
Results: At a mean follow-up of 19 ± 6.2 months all but two of the fractures had united. The mean overall duration of external fixation was 20.2 ± 8.2 weeks, with a slightly longer mean time-in-frame in Group 1 (20.9 ± 1.1 weeks) in comparison to Group 2 (17.8 ± 1.4 weeks, p=0.1). Complications occurred more frequently in patients over the age of 55 years (56% vs 37%, p-value = 0.2). Loss of reduction also occurred more frequently in patients over 55 years (19%), compared to patients younger than 55 years (6%) (p=0.1).
Conclusion: Circular external fixation may be a viable treatment option in patients over the age 55 years who sustain high-energy tibial plateau fractures associated with significant soft tissue compromise. No significant difference was found in terms of the union rate or the development of complications when compared to younger patients.
Level of evidence: Level 3

Author Biographies

L C Marais, University of KwaZulu-Natal


Department of Orthopaedics

Grey’s Hospital

School of Clinical Medicine

University of KwaZulu-Natal


N Ferreira, Stellenbosch University


Department of Orthopaedics

Tygerberg Hospital

University of Stellenbosch

Cape Town




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