Is elevated contact stress predictive of post‐traumatic osteoarthritis for imprecisely reduced tibial plafond fractures?Donald D. Anderson Christopher Van Hofwegen J. Lawrence Marsh Thomas D. Brown
Despite the widely held belief that residual incongruities from intra‐articular fractures subject the joint to contact stresses that predispose to post‐traumatic osteoarthritis (PTOA), objective evidence has been lacking. This study tested the hypothesis that a metric of elevated contact stress exposure would predict the onset of PTOA. The ankles of 10 tibial plafond fracture patients were treated initially using a spanning fixator, with subsequent screw fixation of the articular surface. Following up on an earlier report of finite element computed post‐operative contact stress distributions in these patients’ ankles, Kellgren–Lawrence (KL) scores were assessed from minimum 2‐year follow‐up radiographs to characterize the presence/severity of PTOA. At that time point, seven patients had developed PTOA (KL ≥ 2). Five different metrics of contact stress exposure were calculated, all of which exhibited excellent concordance with KL scores, ranging from 88% to 95%. When time of stress exposure was included, one metric was able to predict PTOA development (KL ≥ 2) with 100% reliability, and all metrics exhibited >94% prediction reliability. These findings, albeit in a small population, support the existence of a contact stress exposure threshold above which incongruously reduced tibial plafond fractures are highly likely to develop PTOA.