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BACKGROUND: The challenges of managing Gustilo IIIB tibial fractures in children are unique. A multi-disciplinary, evidence based approach is needed. We aimed to evaluate the evidence for the ortho-plastic management of Gustilo grade IIIB open tibial shaft fractures in children based on a review of all published data in order to rationalise the orthopaedic and plastic surgical approach to these complex injuries. METHOD: A systematic review of the literature was performed. Gustilo grade IIIB tibial shaft fractures in pre-adolescent and adolescent children were identified and evaluated with regard to both the skeletal and soft tissue management, and the outcome. RESULTS: Of 54 children with grade IIIB tibial fractures, a mean union time of 31 weeks included 33 weeks for 42 adolescents and 23 weeks for 12 pre-adolescents. Faster union time in pre-adolescents tended towards significance. Delayed union occurred in 22%, nonunion in 13%, mostly in adolescents. Two of 45 covered by vascularised flaps and 3 of 9 treated without flaps developed deep infection (p=0.028). There was no correlation between method of skeletal fixation and union time. CONCLUSION: Gustilo IIIB tibial shaft fractures in pre-adolescents tended towards faster healing with fewer complications, irrespective of the method of skeletal fixation. In adolescents, healing times were similar to adults. Soft tissue closure without flaps was associated with deep infection in one-third of patients, requiring debridement and flap cover. Adequate debridement and flap cover is suggested in all cases, irrespective of age.

Original publication




Journal article



Publication Date





876 - 879


Adolescent, Child, Child, Preschool, Female, Fracture Fixation, Fracture Healing, Fractures, Open, Humans, Male, Surgical Flaps, Tibial Fractures, Treatment Outcome