Executive Editor: Ernst Raaymakers, Joseph Schatzker, Rick Buckley

Authors: Matthias Hansen, Rodrigo Pesantez

Proximal tibia Partial articular fracture, split-depression

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1 Principle top


Anatomical reduction

Split depression fractures are intraarticular, therefore they need anatomical reduction.

Buttress plate
The plate in this procedure acts as a buttress to neutralize the axial forces on the tibial plateau.

Lateral versus medial condylar fractures
The operative procedures for lateral condylar fractures and medial condylar fractures are comparable, but the medial fractures tend to be more difficult.

In medial condylar fractures, the position of the plate is determined by the principle fracture line. Therefore, the plate may be anteromedial, posteromedial or posterior.

The split depression fracture involving the tibial spines and one of the tibial plateaus is a special subtype. It is usually sustained as a result of a high velocity axial compression which is directed posteromedially. The result is a posteromedial fracture dislocation of the knee. The difficulties in dealing with this fracture arise in restoring the medial tibial condyle which is frequently split in the coronal plane as well, with the impaction and fragmentation of the medial portion of the lateral plateau and the intercondylar eminence, and fragments of bone caught in the major fracture line.

A lateral condylar fracture treatment is shown here.

2 Patient preparation top

Depending on the approach, the patient may be placed in the following positions:

3 Approach top


For the fracture illustrated an  anterolateral approach is used.

Different fracture configurations may demand a medial/posteromedial or posterior approach.

4 Reduction top

Window in the metaphyseal area enlarge

Window in the metaphyseal area

Approach from below through the fracture. The reduction of the articular surface is checked directly through a standard submeniscal articular exposure. Reduction of the articular surface is accomplished by elevating the fragments from below.

K-wire insertion enlarge

K-wire insertion

Temporary fixation with K-wires may be helpful.


Filling of defect

The metaphyseal defect, which results when the articular fragments are reduced, may be filled with cancellous autograft or a corticocancellous block to support the elevated fragments. Alternatively, bone substitutes may be used.

5 Fixation top


Preliminary fixation

Once reduction of the articular fragments is achieved and the metaphyseal defect has been bone grafted the lateral condylar fragment is reduced. Now, temporary K-wire fixation helps to maintain reduction. Large clamps may help to keep large metaphyseal fragments reduced prior to definitive plate fixation either from the lateral or medial side.


Plate osteosynthesis

Plate osteosynthesis represents the standard treatment for these fractures. The position of the plate is determined by the location of the fracture. The plate acts as a buttress, and compression of the articular fragments and large metaphyseal fragments is achieved by means of lag screws. Angular stable plates may be used, but are rarely necessary in monocondylar fractures except in osteoporotic bone.

Plate insertion
After preliminary fixation with K-wires prior to plate fixation, a clamp, if used for preliminary fixation, may have to be removed, but one must be very careful not to lose the reduction.

If the articular surface is very comminuted one must be careful not to overtighten the lag screws so as not to narrow and deform the articulation. Click here for a detailed description of the lag screw technique.


Plate fixation

Usually three screws are necessary to achieve adequate fixation of the buttress plate to the distal fragment. The number of screws in the proximal fragment will depend on the fracture pattern and the degree of comminution. Lag screw fixation of the articular surface is usually achieved by passing the lag screw outside the plate but may also be through the most proximal hole of the plate. This will depend on the fracture configuration because lag screws should be inserted at a right angle to the principle fracture plane. If one is using a plate with angular stability then fewer number of screws may suffice distally unless the bone is osteoporotic.


This image shows the final result with the use of a locking proximal tibia plate. Remember that a screw which locks in the plate will not act as a lag screw. Therefore, the first proximal screws should not be locking screws, and if partially threaded will exert compression. One then removes these screws one at a time and replaces them with fully threaded locking screws. The advantage of this is that interfragmentary compression is maintained while also achieving angular stability and stronger purchase in the proximal fragment.

v2.0 2010-05-15