Assessment of Fixation Strategies for Severe Open Tibia Fractures
A Prospective Randomized Trial to Assess Fixation Strategies for Severe Open Tibia Fractures:Modern Ring External Fixators Versus Internal Fixation
The purpose of this study is to compare the use of modern ring external fixation versus
internal fixation for fracture stabilization of severe open tibia fractures.
Severe open fractures of the tibia (shin) bone are difficult to treat and are associated
with high rates of infection and other complications. There is controversy regarding the
best treatment, particularly in fractures with large wounds from trauma. The two current
standard treatment options are to place an internal fixation device (a nail or plates with
screws) or to use a device with pins that stick out of the skin and attach to rings outside
the body (modern ring external fixator). It is unknown which of these standard of care
treatment options will result in lower complication rates and better function of the leg.
Our goal is to perform a multi-center randomized controlled trial of the use of modern ring
external fixation versus internal fixation for fracture stabilization of severe open tibia
fractures. Patients who refuse randomization have the option of participating in a
prospective observational study and the treatment is decided by the surgeon and patient.
Primary Aim: To compare the outcomes associated with modern ring external fixators versus
standard internal fixation techniques in treating "severe" open tibia shaft or metaphyseal
fractures with or without a bone defect of any size.
Primary Hypothesis: Among patients with open tibia shaft or metaphyseal fractures (with or
without a bone defect of any size), the rate of re-hospitalization for major limb
complications will be lower for patients treated with ring fixators than those treated with
standard internal fixation.
Secondary Hypotheses: Among patients with open tibia shaft or metaphyseal fractures (with or
without a bone defect of any size), the overall rate of infections will be lower for
patients treated with ring fixators than those treated with standard internal fixation.
Measures of fracture healing, limb function, and patient reported outcomes (including pain)
will be as good or better among patients treated with ring fixators than those treated with
standard internal fixation.
Secondary Aim #1: To determine the percentage of Gustilo IIIB open tibia shaft fractures
that can be treated successfully (i.e. without amputation) without a soft tissue flap
secondary to the use of ring external fixators.
Secondary Aim #2: To determine the two-year treatment costs associated with fixation of
"severe" open tibia shaft or metaphyseal fractures (with or without a bone defect of any
size) using modern ring external fixators versus standard internal fixation techniques.
Secondary Aim #3: To determine patient reported levels of satisfaction with the fixation
method and overall treatment and to compare satisfaction between the two treatment groups.
1. All open tibia fractures meeting at least one of 1 the following criteria:
- Diaphyseal or metaphyseal Type IIIB (Gustilo IIIB Fractures are open fractures
that require either a rotational or free flap for coverage of a soft tissue
- Diaphyseal or metaphyseal Type IIIA where extensive contamination or muscle
damage (e.g. all military injuries from IED) precludes nail/plate placement at
- Diaphyseal or metaphyseal Type IIIA, where injury would have been classified as
a IIIB, but because enough muscle was removed, the skin could be closed.
- Diaphyseal or metaphyseal Type IIIA, where after debridement, bone gap is
greater than 1cm.
- Diaphyseal or metaphyseal Type IIIA, where fasciotomies were performed for
impending or diagnosed compartment syndrome, and wounds could not be closed
primarily (i.e. needs skin grafting).
2. Ages 18 - 64 years inclusive
3. Study fracture is suitable for limb salvage using either a modern ring external
fixator or internal fixation (internal fixation =locked intramedullary nail or
1. Patients may have co-existing non-tibial infection, with or without antibiotic
2. Patients may have risk factors for infection including diabetes, immunosuppression
from steroids or other medications, HIV, or other infections.
3. Patients may have a traumatic brain injury.
4. Patients may be treated initially with a temporary external fixator prior to
5. Patients may be treated initially at an outside institution prior to transfer to the
study institution, as long as the definitive fixation was not performed prior to
entrance into the study.
6. Patients with bilateral injuries that meet inclusion criteria may be included, but
only the limb rated as "more severe" by the treating surgeon will be enrolled in the
7. Fractures may have a gap after debridement of any size, including no gap.
1. Patients presenting with a traumatic amputation of the tibia
2. Patients already received definitive fixation with an IM nail, plate or ring fixator
prior to study enrollment
3. Tibia already infected as diagnosed by a surgeon and currently receiving treatment
4. Patient speaks neither English nor Spanish
5. Patient is a prisoner
6. Patient has been diagnosed with a severe psychiatric condition
7. Patient is intellectually challenged without adequate family support
8. Patient lives outside the catchment area
9. Non-ambulatory patient due to an associated complete spinal cord injury
10. Non-ambulatory before the injury due to a pre-existing condition.
11. Complex pilon and plateau fractures. The study tibia fracture may have extension into
the joint surface, but should primarily be a metaphyseal or diaphyseal fracture and
not have an ipsilateral tibial plateau or pilon fracture.Contralateral tibial plateau
and pilon fractures are allowed