Objective To describe the typical tibial diaphyseal fracture (“footballer's fracture”) and to clarify the circumstances and mechanism of the injury.
Methods In an attempt to obtain a detailed analysis of the types of injury suffered, and thereby highlight areas for prevention, 100 consecutive adult football players with a tibial diaphyseal fracture were studied prospectively. Details of the circumstances and mechanism of injury were collected using a questionnaire (response rate 85%). Treatments depended on the Gustilo classification, displacement, and axial stability. Long term follow up was performed until clinical healing to define the overall prognosis.
Results 61% of players suffered a fracture of both the tibia and the fibula. Ninety five percent of the tibial fractures were transverse or short oblique and were caused by impact during a tackle. Radiographic evidence of bridging callus was better than a classification of the bony injury for predicting weeks to clinical healing. The delayed union and non-union incidence following this injury is low. One patient suffered symptomatic shortening. One patient suffered symptomatic angulation and two patients with non-union required bone grafting.
Conclusions Tibial fracture is an expensive injury. It prevents a young population from being employed and takes up valuable NHS resources. As 85% of players were wearing shin guards, it is likely that improvements in shin guard design could reduce the rate of tibial fracture.
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