Most pediatric tibial shaft fractures (75%)1 can be treated nonoperatively; however, unstable and open fractures require surgical intervention. Titanium elastic nails have become a popular technique for fixation of pediatric tibial shaft fractures. They act as internal splints that impart relative stability to the fracture, promoting callus formation at the fracture site2.
After the patient is placed in the supine position, the proximal tibial physis is marked using fluoroscopy. An anteromedial and anterolateral incision are made distal to the physis. Entry holes are created in the proximal part of the tibia, and appropriately sized titanium nails are introduced into the bone. Nail size should be 40% of the width of the canal, yielding 80% canal fill when 2 nails are used. The nails are prebent into a gentle C-shape to increase cortical contact at the apex so that 3-point fixation is achieved. The nails are passed to the fracture site, and the fracture is then reduced. The nails are then passed across the fracture site and stopped proximal to the distal tibial physis. The nails are then cut and tamped distally until there is just a short portion of nail left out of the proximal part of the tibia so that the nails can be removed once the fracture is healed. The wounds are then closed, and postoperative immobilization is applied.
Many pediatric tibial shaft fractures can be treated with closed reduction and cast immobilization. Open fractures, or fractures that fail nonoperative management, can be treated with external fixation, open reduction and internal fixation (ORIF), or intramedullary stabilization3.
Anatomic reduction and fracture compression can be achieved with ORIF; however, a drawback to this technique is the lack of soft-tissue coverage in the diaphyseal area of the tibia, which can lead to infection and wound-healing problems4. External fixation has traditionally been the technique of choice for open tibial fractures; however, with the ability to use flexible tibial nails in both open and closed tibial fractures, external fixation is now reserved for open fractures with large soft-tissue defects or in fractures with segmental bone loss. Intramedullary flexible nailing can be used in both open and closed tibial fractures, provides excellent fracture fixation, and utilizes incisions that are more cosmetically appealing to patients5,6.
Outcomes following flexible nailing for pediatric tibial fractures are excellent. In a study of 19 patients undergoing flexible nailing for tibial shaft fractures, 18 had excellent or satisfactory results7. Compared with patients who had external fixation, those treated with flexible nails had less pain, shorter time to union, and better functional outcomes2. Compared with patients treated with ORIF, those who underwent flexible intramedullary nailing spent less time in the operating room and had lower rates of wound complications4. In the immediate postoperative period, clinicians should be aware of the risk of compartment syndrome, particularly in patients with high-energy injuries, older patients (>14 years old), and heavier patients (>50 kg)8. There is also an increased risk of soft-tissue irritation and fracture malunion in heavier patients treated with flexible nails9,10.
- Nail size should be 80% of the canal diameter (e.g., two 4.0-mm nails should be chosen for a canal that measures 10 mm).
- Nails should be properly contoured to avoid corticotomy of the far cortex during insertion; apex of the bend should be positioned at the level of the fracture.
- During insertion, leave room to advance nails further after they are cut proximally.
- Do not bury the proximal nail tips beneath the cortex as extraction will be difficult.
- Ensure that the ends of the nails are not lying up against the proximal tibial physis as this may cause premature growth arrest.