Open tibial shaft fractures comprise almost 45% of all open fractures and are frequently the result of high-energy trauma. Due to contamination, limited soft tissue coverage of the tibial shaft and poor tibial blood supply, open tibial shaft fractures are associated with high rates of complication including malunion, non-union and infection. Intramedullary nailing (IMN) is a mainstay of treatment. This study aims to determine the frequency of the various complications in this cohort.
A systematic review of papers published on Embase, PubMed and Cochrane databases pertaining to the use of IMN to fix open tibial shaft fractures were included. The available evidence was collated in regard to the incidence of union, malunion, non-union and infection seen in this cohort.
A total of 2767 citations were reviewed, and 17 studies comprising 1850 patients were included in the analysis. There was a delayed union rate of 22.4%, malunion rate of 8.3%, non-union rate of 9.7% and infection rate of 8.1% (95% CI: 5.7%–10.8%) in this patient cohort. Subgroup analysis showed a 3-fold increase in non-union and a 2-fold increase in deep infection among Gustilo III injuries compared to Gustilo I and II.
IMN for open tibial shaft fractures results in high rates of union and low rates of infection, comparable to figures seen in closed injuries and superior to those seen with alternative methods of fixation. There is a substantially increased risk of complication associated with Gustilo III injuries, reinforcing the significance of the soft tissue injury in these patients.