Pronation-external rotation ankle injuries involve varying degrees of disruption of the syndesmotic ligaments. The loss of ligament support and alteration in the stability of the mortise have been postulated to lead to an increase in joint reactive forces and traumatic arthritis. The purpose of this study was to determine the changes in tibiotalar joint dynamics associated with syndesmotic diastasis as a result of the sequential sectioning of the syndesmotic ligaments to simulate a pronation-external rotation injury. Dissections were conducted on 10 fresh-frozen, knee-disarticulated cadaveric specimens which were then axially loaded in an unconstrained manner. Tibiotalar joint forces were measured at each level of sequential sectioning of the syndesmotic ligaments, the interosseous membrane, and finally the deltoid ligament. Complete disruption of the syndesmosis with the medial structures of the ankle intact resulted in an average syndesmotic widening of 0.24 mm and no significant change in the tibiotalar contact area or the peak pressure. However, deltoid ligament strain increases with sectioning of the syndesmosis. With the addition of deltoid ligament sectioning, there was an average syndesmotic diastasis of 0.73 mm, a 39% reduction in the tibiotalar contact area, and a 42% increase in the peak pressure. In a simulated unconstrained cadaveric model of a pronation-external rotation ankle injury that results in complete disruption of the syndesmosis, if rigid anatomic medial and lateral joint fixation is obtained and the deltoid ligament complex is intact, syndesmotic screw fixation is not required to maintain the integrity of the tibiotalar joint.
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