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Triplane fracture

Last revised by Dr Daniel J Bell on 03 Aug 2022

Triplane or triplanar fractures are of the distal tibia only occurring in adolescents. As the physiological closure of the physeal plate begins medially, the lateral (open) physis is prone to this type of fracture. Most authors regard it as a type 4 Salter-Harris fracture.

It comprises of: 

  • a vertical fracture through the epiphysis
  • a horizontal fracture through the physis
  • an oblique fracture through the metaphysis

As physeal closure has to begin at one end, triplane fractures have occasionally been reported in other sites too, e.g. distal radius 2, proximal tibia 4, distal femur 5.

In adolescents with closing epiphyseal plate(s) they are the most common ankle joint fractures - along with Tillaux fractures.

Symptoms comprise of pain and inability to weight bear. Possible signs include swelling, localized/referred pain, and/or deformity of the ankle.

External rotation and supination is the main mechanism of injury in lateral triplane fractures. The uncommon medial variation usually occurs with an adduction force 9.

Standard ankle series suggested; AP, lateral and mortise (best view to define displacement). Due to the aforementioned characteristics, the fracture typically resembles:

Small dislocations and the vertical fracture itself are frequently overlooked, and CT is advised if there is concern. 

The imaging modality of choice, permitting identification of;

  • fracture pattern and articular congruity
  • fragment number and orientation/relationship

For the same reasons, CT aids in treatment planning as well 6.

May be used to reveal associated ligamentous injuries, osteochondral fractures and chondral fractures 7.

Treatment options comprise of surgery (e.g. open reduction and internal fixation (ORIF)) or conservative management (e.g. long leg cast immobilization). Physeal arrest may occur in 7% to 21% of cases, rarely leading to angular deformity. The significance of preserving the physis is questionable given the limited remaining growth potential, but patients with greater than 2 years of growth remaining should be followed.

The distinctive term for this fracture was coined by L Marmor in 1970 stemming from it lying in the frontal, lateral, and transverse planes 8.

On radiographs, possible considerations include

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Cases and figures

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