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Original Investigation
January 4, 2016

Radiograph-Negative Lateral Ankle Injuries in ChildrenOccult Growth Plate Fracture or Sprain?

Author Affiliations
  • 1Division of Emergency Medicine, Department of Pediatrics, the Hospital for Sick Children and the University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
  • 2Division of Emergency Medicine, Department of Pediatrics, Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario and University of Ottawa, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
  • 3Department of Diagnostic Imaging, The Hospital for Sick Children and University of Toronto, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
  • 4Department of Medical Imaging, Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario and University of Ottawa, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
  • 5Department of Radiology, University of Saskatchewan and Saskatoon Health Region, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada
  • 6Department of Emergency Medicine, Kingston General Hospital and Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada
  • 7Division of Orthopaedic Surgery, Department of Surgery, Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario and University of Ottawa, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
  • 8Division of Orthopaedic Surgery, Department of Surgery, The Hospital for Sick Children and University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
JAMA Pediatr. 2016;170(1):e154114. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2015.4114
Abstract

Importance  Lateral ankle injuries without radiographic evidence of a fracture are a common pediatric injury. These children are often presumed to have a Salter-Harris type I fracture of the distal fibula (SH1DF) and managed with immobilization and orthopedic follow-up. However, previous small studies suggest that these injuries may represent ankle sprains rather than growth plate fractures.

Objectives  To determine the frequency of SH1DF using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and compare the functional recovery of children with fractures identified by MRI vs those with isolated ligament injuries.

Design, Setting, and Participants  A prospective cohort study was conducted between September 2012 and August 2014 at 2 tertiary care pediatric emergency departments. We screened 271 skeletally immature children aged 5 to 12 years with a clinically suspected SH1DF; 170 were eligible and 140 consented to participate.

Interventions  Children underwent MRI of both ankles within 1 week of injury. Children were managed with a removable brace and allowed to return to activities as tolerated.

Main Outcomes and Measures  The proportion with MRI-confirmed SH1DF. A secondary outcome included the Activity Scale for Kids score at 1 month.

Results  Of the 135 children who underwent ankle MRI, 4 (3.0%; 95% CI, 0.1%-5.9%) demonstrated MRI-confirmed SH1DF, and 2 of these were partial growth plate injuries. Also, 108 children (80.0%) had ligament injuries and 27 (22.0%) had isolated bone contusions. Of the 108 ligament injuries, 73 (67.6%) were intermediate to high-grade injuries, 38 of which were associated with radiographically occult fibular avulsion fractures. At 1 month, the mean (SD) Activity Scale for Kids score of children with MRI-detected fibular fractures (82.0% [17.2%]) was not significantly different from those without fractures (85.8% [12.5%]) (mean difference, −3.8%; 95% CI, −1.7% to 9.2%).

Conclusions and Relevance  Salter-Harris I fractures of the distal fibula are rare in children with radiograph fracture–negative lateral ankle injuries. These children most commonly have ligament injuries (sprains), sometimes associated with radiographically occult avulsion fractures. Children with fractures detectable only by MRI had a comparable recovery with those with sprains when treated with a removable ankle brace and self-regulated return to activities. This work has the potential to simplify the care of these common injuries, safely minimizing the inconveniences and costs of overtreatment.

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