Original Investigation|Articles in Press

The Impact of Injury of the Tibial Nutrient Artery Canal on Type of Nonunion of Tibial Shaft Fractures: A Retrospective Computed Tomography Study

Published:March 14, 2023DOI:

      Rationale and Objectives

      Blood supply is vital for sound callus formation. The tibial nutrient artery (TNA) is the main diaphyseal artery nurturing the tibial shaft. The objective is to investigate the impact of TNA canal (TNAC) injury on the development of atrophic, oligotrophic, and hypertrophic nonunion in patients with tibial shaft fractures.

      Materials and Methods

      Between January 2010 and December 2020, patients with a nonunion of a tibial shaft fracture were retrospectively included. Two readers independently evaluated the integrity of the TNAC and classified nonunion type. A multinomial regression model was utilized to evaluate if a TNAC injury has an impact on the type of nonunion.


      From an initial set of 385 patients with the diagnosis of a nonunion of the lower leg, a total of 60 patients could be finally included in the study. Most patients were males (78%), diabetic (95%), smokers (73%), and had an American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA) score of 2 (72%). TNAC injury was noted in 24 patients (40%): an iatrogenic TNAC injury was observed in 13 (22%) patients, a traumatic TNAC injury in 11 (18%) patients. Most patients had a hypertrophic nonunion (29 patients (48%)), followed by an oligotrophic nonunion (24 patients (40%)) and lastly an atrophic nonunion (seven patients (11%)). The multinomial regression model showed that there was no impact of TNAC injury on the development of a specific type of non-union (p = 0.798 for oligotrophic vs. atrophic nonunion; p = 0.943 for hypertrophic vs. atrophic nonunion). Furthermore, patients were about four times more likely to develop an oligotrophic/hypertrophic nonunion rather than atrophic one (odds ratio 3.75 and 4.25, respectively), regardless of the presence of a TNAC injury.


      In the evaluated patient cohort with tibial shaft fractures, we could not find a statistically significant association between TNAC injury and type of nonunion. However, patients were almost four times more likely to develop oligotrophic or hypertrophic nonunion rather than an atrophic one although common risk factors for impaired (micro)vascular blood supply were highly prevalent in the study group. Multicenter studies with a larger number of atrophic nonunions are warranted to further evaluate this result.

      Key Words

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