May 2022

Assessment of alternative techniques to quantify the effect of injury on soft tissue in closed ankle and pilon fractures

Authors: Sascha Halvachizadeh 1, 2, Roman Pfeifer 1, 2, Yannik Kalbas 1, Simone Schuerle 3, Paolo Cinelli 2, Hans-Christoph Pape 1, 2


  1. Department of Trauma, University Hospital Zurich, Raemistrasse, Zurich, Switzerland
  2. Harald Tscherne Laboratory, University of Zurich, Sternwartstrasse, Zurich, Switzerland
  3. Institute of Translational Medicine, Department of Health Science & Technology, ETH Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland

Journal: PLOS ONE - May 2022, 17(5):e0268359. (DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0268359)

Introduction: Local soft tissue status (STS) guides the timing for definitive surgical treatment strategies of fracture fixation around the ankle joint. The aim of this study was to assess different types of new technical devices in relation to the surgical treatment in closed ankle and pilon fractures.

Methods: This study was designed as a cohort study. Adult patients admitted between February 1, 2019 and December 31, 2020 presenting with closed ankle fracture requiring surgical treatment were eligible. The exclusion criteria were previous injuries to the lower extremity, acute deep venous thrombosis, skin diseases, and delayed presentation (admission >24 hours after injury). Moderate-energy trauma includes injuries sustained during team sports, biking, and running. The primary outcome was the assessment of the degree of soft tissue involvement following closed fractures by comparing different techniques focusing on the ankle region and including ankle and pilon fractures. The variables of interest included the circumference of soft tissue swelling around the ankle, determined within a 5-mm range in the area of the medial and lateral malleolus and the bone-skin distance on a plain radiograph, determined by the largest distance from the malleolus to the border of the soft-tissue shadow. STS assessment included optical measures of local perfusion (O2C, Lea Inc. Germany) and tactile measures of mechanical characteristics (MyotonPRO® tensiometer AS, Estonia). Measurements of Group Temp (temporary stabilization) and Group Def (definitive surgery) were taken on admission and prior to the treatment strategy decision. The contralateral non-injured ankle served as a control. The quality of assessment tools was quantified by calculating the smallest detectable change (SDC).

Results: In total, 38 patients with a mean age of 40.4 (SD 17.8) years were included. The SDC was 3.2% (95%CI 2.5 to 3.8) for local blood flow and 1.1% (95%CI 0.4 to 1.7) for soft tissue stiffness. The circumference of the injured area at admission was significantly higher than that of the healthy site (28.2 [SD 3.4] cm versus 23.9 [SD 2.4] cm, p < 0.001). The local perfusion (blood flow 107.5 (SD 40.79 A.U. vs. 80.1 [SD 13.8] A.U., p = 0.009), and local dynamic stiffness of the skin (668.1 (SD 148.0) N/m vs 449.5 (SD 87.7) N/m, p < 0.001) were significantly higher at the injured site. In Group Temp, the local blood flow was significantly higher when compared with Group Def (109.6 [SD 39.8] vs. 94.5 [SD 13.0], p = 0.023). The dynamic stiffness of the soft tissue was significantly higher in Group Temp (679.4 N/m [SD 147.0] N/m vs. 573.0 N/m (SD 93.8) N/m, p < 0.001). The physical properties of STS were comparable among the fracture types. None of the included patients had local soft tissue complications.

Conclusion: Closed fractures of the ankle and the pilon are associated with an increase in local circulation and local soft tissue stiffness and tension. These changes of the STS following injury can be quantified in a standardized and reproducible manner.


Keywords: soft tissues, surgical and invasive medical procedures, ankles , bone fracture, blood flow, stiffness, hemoglobin, traumatic injury

Closed fractures of the ankle and pilon are associated with an increase in local blood flow and soft tissue stiffness. The investigated new devices were able to detect changes of the local STS in a standardized and reproducible manner.