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Talar Neck Fracture Reduced and Stabilized with an Ilizarov External Fixator: A case report with three year follow up

by Sutpal Singh, DPM, FACFAS, FAPWCA1 , Chih-Hui (Jimmy) Tsai, DPM2,
Albert Kim, DPM3, Timothy Dailey, DPM4

The Foot and Ankle Online Journal 3 (7): 1

The authors report a case of a Grade 3 Tscherne, isolated Hawkins Type III fracture that was treated with open reduction and external fixation. The Ilizarov technique simplified the surgery by allowing the reduction of the diastasis using a tensioned olive wire, providing distraction of fracture bones externally, and aid in reduction of the talus without the need for multiple, extensive dissection. The patient responded very well to the surgery, despite occurrence of avascular necrosis of the talus and three years status post surgery. The patient has good range of motion, is pain-free, and ambulates without difficulty despite having avascular necrosis.

Key words: Talar fracture, Hawkins classification, Hawkins sign, Ilizarov technique, diastasis, avascular necrosis.

Accepted: June, 2010
Published: July, 2010

ISSN 1941-6806
doi: 10.3827/faoj.2010.0307.0001

Talar fractures have been described since the early 1600’s. [1] In early literature, open talar fractures had an 84% mortality rate. [3] Due to the high mortality rate, surgeons advised extreme measures such as below knee amputations or talectomy. [1] Since then, the surgical technique for these fractures has vastly improved. However, these types of fractures, thought not fatal, still prove to be very challenging today. Talar fractures are rare, making up only 3% of all foot fractures.

Talar fractures can be classified as open or closed. The Tscherne soft tissue classification system describes both open and closed fractures. [9,17] (Table 1) For the closed soft tissue injuries, Tscherne uses a grading system from 0-3 and is based on the amount of the injury. Grade 0 is minimal soft tissue damage from indirect violence. Grade 1 is a superficial abrasion or contusion caused by pressure from within. Grade 2 is a deep contaminated abrasion associated with local skin or muscle contusion and may encompass a compartment syndrome. Grade 3 consists of extensive skin contusion or crushing, underlying severe muscle injury, decompensated compartment syndrome, and associated vascular injury. [9]

Table 1  Tscherne Classification.

Talar fractures can be further divided into three anatomical locations: neck, body and head. Talar neck fractures comprised of 50% of all talar fractures. [2] The most commonly used classification system for talar neck fractures is Hawkin’s Classification (Table 2). This classification has four types, which are differentiated by the degree of displacement. Type I is a non-displaced talar neck fracture. Type II is a talar neck fracture with mild displacement and subluxing from the subtalar joint. Type III is displacement of the talar body with dislocation of subtalar and ankle joint. Type IV is a combination of Type III with dislocation of the talonavicular joint. [1] The higher the grade, the greater the risk is for complications.

Table 2  Hawkins Classification. (AVN – avascular necrosis)

Blood supply to the talus may be an issue if one delays reduction or inadequately treats these fractures. [3] Avascular necrosis (AVN) of the talar body and arthrosis after displaced talar neck fractures is quite common; the higher the grade, the larger chance of AVN. In an article by Gholam et al, they described nine cases of Hawkins Type III fractures, and eight of the nine developed arthrosis.3 In Hawkins Type I fractures, it is quite rare to see AVN. However in Hawkins Type II, there is a 15.8%-75% chance. [1] In Hawkins Type III, the chance of AVN increases to 33-75%. [1]

Hawkins Type IV has the highest chance, reaching almost 100% due to the amount of displacement and disruption of the blood supply to the talus. [1] Subchondral atrophy of the talar dome, also called Hawkins Sign, indicates an intact blood supply to the talus. [3] It is essential to be aware of AVN so it can be treated promptly.

Various treatment options exist for talar neck fractures. Some surgeons prefer using a compression screw across the fracture fragment, while others prefer a plate. In a study performed by Charlson, et al., plate fixation and screw fixation were compared. No statistical difference between either method was found. Plate fixation may provide more control of the anatomical alignment, but has no biomechanical advantage over screws alone. [4] There are very few cases reported in the literature of an isolated talar neck fractures treated with external fixation. However, there are many cases of multiple fractures (talus with calcaneus or talus with medial/lateral malleolus) successfully treated with external fixation. The purpose of this paper is to report a Grade 3 Tscherne, isolated and displaced Hawkins Type III talar neck fracture that was specifically treated with open reduction and external fixation. By determining how much soft tissue injury and the extent of talar fracture, external fixation can be more superior to internal fixation. In this case, the Ilizarov technique is ideal when there is soft tissue injury, vascular compromise, and displaced talar neck fracture.

Case Report

The patient is a 40 year-old correctional officer who was riding a recreational vehicle at the time of his injury. (Fig. 1A and B) He reported jumping off the vehicle due to faulty breaks, resulting in a severe talar neck fracture. (Fig. 2A and B). The mechanism of the traumatic injury was that of hyperdorsiflexion of the foot against the tibia in an axial force with impingement of the talar neck.


Figure 1A and B  Note the severe contracture of all the toes. (A) Note the contracted hallux and lack of blood flow to the medial ankle where the talar body is compressing the skin and posterior tibial artery. (B)


Figure 2A and B Non-weight bearing lateral view.  Note the overlap of the talus onto the calcaneus. (A) Note the fracture fragments in the ankle. (B)

As the force continued, there was a medial and dorsal displacement fracture of the talus, and disruption of the interosseous talocalcaneal ligament. Also, the posterior and subtalar joint capsule were disrupted. As the ankle supinated, there was increased force of the talar neck against the medial malleolus resulting in subluxation of the subtalar joint and ankle joint. It was quite severe such that the medial ankle was blanching and becoming necrotic.

The flexor hallucis longus (FHL) and flexor digitorum longus (FDL) tendons were also contracted, such that the hallux and lesser toes were severely plantarflexed.

The dorsalis pedis artery was palpable, but the posterior tibial (PT) artery was being compressed and not palpable or heard using a Doppler. There was soft tissue damage and vascular supply was compromised. The patient opted to have surgery and informed consent was obtained from him to allow us to study and present this case. An open reduction was performed with the use on an Ilizarov frame immediately.

Surgical Technique

A large curvilinear incision was made on the medial ankle overlying the talus, extending distally and proximally from the area of blanching. (Fig. 3) The incision was deepened to the subcutaneous tissue and then to the deep tissue. The entire talar dome was noted at the incision site. (Fig. 4) The deep tissue was retracted. Once past the deep tissue, we noted that the posterior tibial artery was being compressed by the talar body. The talar body was exposed, and it was completely displaced and rotated out of the ankle and subtalar joint. There was a large hematoma and multiple small fracture fragments in the ankle joint. The hematoma was evacuated, and the small fracture fragments were removed. The wound was also copiously irrigated with bacitracin-impregnated saline. Then, attempt at relocating the dislocated and fractured talus was performed; however, there was much contraction of the tibia onto the calcaneus that it was extremely difficult to retract. Thus an external fixator was employed to distract the tibia from the calcaneus in order to relocate the talus.

Figure 3  1)  Medial surface of the talus.  2) Anterior or distal surface of the talus.  3) Lateral surface of the talus.    4) Posterior process of the talus with entrapped flexor hallucis longus (FHL) and  posterior tibial (PT) tendons and PT artery.   Note that the toes are at the upper left and the leg is at the lower right.

Figure 4  Dislocated and rotated talus.  1) Medial surface of the talus where the deltoid ligament is shown to be torn.  2) The posterior aspect of the talus: The posterior tibial tendon, posterior tibial artery and FHL are entrapped.  3) Lateral surface of the talus.  4) Talar dome.  5) Anterior surface of the talus.

First, two tibial rings were applied to the lower leg. Then a foot plate was applied, and all the wires were appropriately tensioned. Several distraction rods were used to connect the tibial rings to the foot plate, and then the foot was distracted. By distracting the tibia from the calcaneus, it made it much easier to rotate the talus and slide it between the tibia and calcaneus back into anatomical alignment. The fractured talus was anatomically reduced and held in place by an external fixator. Once the fracture was reduced, the severe skin tension on the medial side of the foot decreased.

A Doppler placed over the PT artery now showed good blood flow. Also, the FHL and FDL tendons became more relaxed, and the contracture over the hallux and lesser toes were reduced. A series of photographs shows the alignment of the Ilizarov frame directly after surgery (Figs. 5A and B, 6) and at 3 weeks after surgery. (Figs. 7A and B)


Figure 5A and B  Post-operative site with the Ilizarov Frame.

Figure 6  Post-operative reduction of the talar fracture in good alignment.


Figure 7A and B  Three weeks post- operative view.


A one year follow-up showed that his hallux range of motion was normal and his ankle healed in good alignment and anatomical position. This was accompanied with good range of motion, without pain, and with normal ambulation. However, despite the proper care and good post operative alignment, there was still sclerosis of the talar body which indicated that there was indeed avascular necrosis present. He remained non-weight bearing for 6 months and then weight bearing using a pneumatic cam walker for an additional 6 months. After this the patient went back to working 8 hours a day as a corrections officer and it was explained to him of the possible collapse and further complications from the osteonecrosis of the talus and to limit any vigorous activities. He was again followed up at 2 years and at 3 years after the initial traumatic event. He did have an increase in plantar flexion, and adequate dorsiflexion towards the end of the follow-up. He had no pain and was satisfied with the surgical outcome. He however, did have sclerosis of the talus but without any evidence of collapse. (Table 3)

Table 3  Patient 3 year follow-up results. (DF – dorsiflexion, PF – plantarflexion, AVN – avascular necrosis)


The complex nature of high energy talus fractures can pose complications that can challenge most foot and ankle surgeons. The complexity arises because of the blood supply to the talus being extremely vulnerable after a traumatic injury. [10] Short term complications can result in skin necrosis, wound dehiscence, and infection. [11,12] Additional complications of comminuted fractures involving the talar neck and body carry a risk of AVN due to the retrograde blood supply. [13] Injury to the joints surrounding the talus can cause irreversible osteochondral damage that could lead to possible early post traumatic arthritis or arthrosis. In this report, we have a patient with a closed talar neck fracture with vascular comprise. The case is further complicated by additional factors that included the medial ankle developing blanching and ultimately becoming necrotic, the posterior tibial artery being compressed, and the FHL and FDL tendons being contracted such that the hallux and lesser digits were severely plantarflexed.

Treatment options evolved from reduction and immobilization, to limited fixation, and currently, open reduction internal fixation being performed on most talar fractures. [14] Included in the literature are recommendations for primary arthrodesis or talectomy for severe talar fractures. [15] In this case, an external fixator was applied due to the severe contracture of the tibia onto the calcaneus. The Ilizarov external fixator allowed for distraction of the tibia from the calcaneus and this allowed for reduction and rotation of the talar body in its anatomical location.

Also, because of the volatile nature of the fracture and the additional soft tissue complications and its increased probability for an osteonecrosis sequelae, external fixation was utilized because it is commonly implemented and indicated for compromised soft tissue structures and gross instability. [16]

In this case, the patient was destined to have avascular necrosis due to the talar neck fracture which according to the literature has up to a 75% chance to develop the condition even with the utmost care and precautions. [1,14] This was exacerbated by the ruptured medial deltoid ligaments causing a dislocation of the talus. In examining the talus, it is a unique bone in the foot in that it has no muscular attachments with about 60% of the talus is covered with articular cartilage. These anatomical features make the talus vulnerable to dislocation. Extreme forces can cause dislocation of the talus out of the ankle mortise with disruption of the strong ligamentous attachments and this may have accounted for the medial deltoid ligament ruptures present in this patient.

This dislocation most likely caused tremendous vascular damage to this already intricate arrangement of vessels that are highly vulnerable to injury. The anterior tibial, PT, and perforating peroneal arteries serve as the vascular supply to the talus. The artery of the tarsal canal is a branch of the PT, and it supplies most of the talar body, the medial talar wall, and the undersurface of the talar neck. The artery of the tarsal canal anastamoses with the artery of the sinus tarsi, which is a branch of the perforating peroneal artery, and these vessels supply the inferior aspect of the talar body and neck. [18]

As the talus dislocates from the ankle mortise, there is sequential failure of the talar blood supply. Since the blood supply to bone and soft tissue are so intertwined, it has been noted that osteonecrosis was highest in cases in which no soft tissues remained attached to the talus. [19]

In this patient, this risk of avascular necrosis was increased and seen when the soft tissue along the medial aspect of the foot became de-vascularized and necrotic.

It is recommended that the patient should be non-weight bearing or protected weight bearing until the avascular necrosis resolves, [19,20] however there is no definitive evidence to suggest that full weight bearing with avascular necrosis leads to secondary complications such as collapse of the talar dome and tibiotalar arthritis. [21] This is further exemplified by this case where the patient, even at a three year follow up with avascular necrosis of the body of the talus, shows that his ankle is in good alignment, has not collapsed, shows no evidence of varus or valgus, has good range of motion, no pain, and ambulates normally. (Figs. 8A and B, 9, 10A and B)


Figure 8A and B   Six months after surgery.

Figure 9 Three years after the initial injury.


Figure 10A and B  Weight-bearing lateral view of the ankle, three years status post-operative, shows AVN of the talus, but good alignment.  There is no pain, no collapse of the talus, and the patient has good ankle range of motion. (A) Weight-bearing anterior posterior view of the ankle, three years status post-operative shows AVN of the talus, but good ankle joint congruity. (B)

By using the Ilizarov External Fixator, the talus was immobilized and held in place such that no axial pressure was placed onto the talus while healing took place.


Talar fractures are very complicated with a high incidence of AVN. We feel that if there is much difficulty in reducing the talar fracture from the tight tibial collapse onto the calcaneal surface, an external fixator is very beneficial in distracting the tibia from the calcaneus. In the above case, we used the multiplaner Ilizarov external fixator. He did have a severe fracture and dislocation of the talus which eventually resulted in AVN. At this moment, the patient states that he is pain free, and examination showed good ankle and subtalar joint range of motion. It is very important to have the patient frequently visit the office to make sure the talus is not collapsing and to explain to the patient that possible future surgeries, such as total ankle joint implant, subtalar joint arthrodesis, triple arthrodesis, or ankle fusion, may be necessary if the talus collapses as a consequence of AVN.


1. Banks AS, Downey MS, Martin DE, Miller SJ. McGlamry’s Comprehensive Textbook of Foot and Ankle Surgery. Vol 1, 3rd edition. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins; 2001.
2. Juliano P, Dabbah M, Harris TG. Talar neck fractures. Foot Ankle Clinics 2004 9: 723-736.
3. Pajenda G, Vecsei V, Reddy B, Heinz T: Treatment of talar neck fractures: Clinical results of 50 patients. J Foot & Ankle Surg 2000 39(6) 365-375.
4. Charlson MD, Parks BG, Weber TG, Guyton GP. Comparison of plate and screw fixation and screw fixation alone in a comminuted talar neck fracture model. Foot Ankle Int 2006 27 (5): 340-343.
5. Marion H. Talar Shift: The stabilizing role of the medial, lateral and posterior ankle structures. Clinical Orthopedics Rel Res 1990 257: 177-183
6. Comfort TH, Behrens F, Gaither DW, Denis F, Sigmond M. Long term results of displaced talar neck fractures. Clin Orthopedics Rel Res 1985 199: 81-87.
7. Grob D, Simpson LA, Weber BG. Operative treatment of displaced talus fractures. Clin Orthopedics Rel Res 1985 199: 88-96.
8. Greenleaf J, Berkowitz RD, Whitelaw GP, Seidman GD. Hawkins Type III Fracture – Dislocation of the talus and diastasis of the tibiofibular joint without concomitant fracture of the malleolei. Clin Orthopedics Rel Res 1992 279: 254-57.
9. Frank T, Joseph B. Soft-tissue injury associated with closed fractures: Evaluation and management. J Am Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons. 2003 V:11 N:6, 431-438.
10. Baumhauer JF, Alvarez RG. Controversies in treating talus fractures. Orthop Clin North Am 1995 26(2): 335-351.
11. Fulkerson EW, Egol KA: Timing issues in fracture Management: a review of current concepts. Bulletin of the NYU hospital for joint diseases 67(1): 58-67, 2009.
12. Roberts C, Pape H, Jones A, Malkani A, Rodriguez J, Giannoudis P: Damage control orthopaedics evolving concepts in the treatment of patients who have sustained orthopaedic trauma. JBJS 2005 87(2): 434-449.
13. Elgafy H, Ebraheim NA, Tile M, Stephen D, Kase J. Fractures of the talus: experience of two level 1 trauma centers. Foot Ankle Int 2000 21(12):1023-1029.
14. Vallier HA, Nork SE, Barei DP, Benirschke SK, Sangeorzan BJ: Talar neck fractures: results and outcomes. JBJS 2004 86A(8): 1616-1624.
15. Gunal I, Atilla S, Arac S, Gursoy Y, Karagozlu H: A new technique of talectomy for severe fracture-dislocation of the talus. JBJS 1993 75B (1): 69-71.
16. Sirkin M, Sanders R, DiPasquale T, Herscovici D: A staged protocol for soft tissue management in the treatment of complex pilon fractures. J Orthopaedic Trauma 2004 18 (8 Suppl): S32-38.
17. Tscherne H, Schatzker J (editors). Major Fractures of the Pilon, the Talus, and the Calcaneus: Current Concepts of Treatment. Berlin, Germany: Springer-Verlag, 1993.
18. Schuberth J, Alder D. Talar fractures. In: Banks A, Downey M, Martin D, Miller S editor. McGlamry’s Comprehensive Textbook of Foot & Ankle Surgery. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins; 2002, 1866-1867.
19. Hiraizumi Y, Hara T, Takahashi M, Mayehiyo S. Open total dislocation of the talus with extrusion: A report of two cases. Foot Ankle Int 1992 13: 473-477.
20. Brewster N, Maffulli N. Reimplantation of the totally extruded talus. J Orthop Trauma 1997 11: 42–45.
21. Vallier H, Barei D, Bernischke S, Sangeorzan B. Surgical treatment of talar body fractures. JBJS 2003 85A: 1716-1724.

Address Correspondence to: Sutpal Singh, DPM. FACFAS. FAPWCA

1  Chief Ilizarov Surgical Instructor at Doctors Hospital West Covina, Fellow of the American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons, Fellow American Professional Wound Care Association. Private practice in Southern California.
2  Doctor of Podiatric Medicine (R3) ,Foot and Ankle Medicine and Surgery, Doctors Hospital of West Covina (PM&S-36), West Covina, CA
3  Doctor of Podiatric Medicine (R2) Foot and Ankle Medicine and Surgery, Doctors Hospital of West Covina (PM&S-36), West Covina, CA
Doctor of Podiatric Medicine (R1) Foot and Ankle Medicine and Surgery, Doctors Hospital of West Covina (PM&S-36), West Covina, CA

© The Foot and Ankle Online Journal, 2010

Open Extrusion of the Talus: A case report

by Mark A. Hardy, DPM, FACFAS1 , Stella Chuida, DPM2

The Foot & Ankle Journal 1 (12): 1

Open talar extrusion is an uncommon injury that the foot and ankle surgeon may encounter. Possible sequelae of this injury include arthrosis, osteomyelitis and avascular necrosis (AVN). The authors present a case involving an open lateral talar extrusion, with further discussion including mechanism of injury, anatomical considerations, incidence of AVN and perioperative concerns.

Key words: Open dislocation, talus dislocation, avascular necrosis, Hawkin’s sign

This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License.  It permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited. ©The Foot & Ankle Journal (www.faoj.org)

Accepted: November, 2008
Published: December, 2008

ISSN 1941-6806
doi: 10.3827/faoj.2008.0112.0001

Case Report

A 41-year-old male with past medical history of hypertension presented to the emergency department after sustaining a right ankle injury while playing basketball. He reported landing on an inverted foot after attempting a ‘dunk’ shot during the game. He then noted exposure of bone at the lateral aspect of his ankle. He denied losing consciousness or sustaining any other injuries. He did admit to having consumed moderate amounts of alcohol prior to the injury.

At presentation, he was in moderate distress due to pain, found to be alert and oriented to person, place and time. Vital signs were stable.

Examination of the right foot and ankle revealed medial dislocation of the foot on the ankle and a 15cm wound to the lateral aspect of the ankle. (Figs.1 and 2) At the proximal aspect of the wound, the distal fibula, talar dome and posterolateral talar body could be visualized.


Figures 1 and 2   Gustillo-Anderson Type III open talar extrusion injury.

The base of the wound was beefy red and the wound margins viable. The open wound appeared relatively clean except for a sock embedded in the wound and was without debris or foreign bodies. There was no evidence of neurovascular compromise. Pedal pulses were palpable, capillary refill time was brisk and protective sensation intact.

Radiograph of the right ankle revealed complete dislocation of the talus from the tibiotalar, subtalar and talonavicular articulations. (Fig. 3)

Figure 3   Plain film radiographs demonstrating talar extrusion with disruption of the tibiotalar, subtalar and talonavicular joints.

The talus was dislocated laterally and anteriorly extruded through the skin and rotated approximately 90 degrees clockwise. The calcaneus was displaced medially and appeared to retain its normal relationship with the remaining portions of the midfoot. No definitive or occult fracture was identified. The tibia and fibula were intact and demonstrated a normal relationship, suggesting that the inferior tibiofibular ligaments were maintained. A computed tomography (CT) scan of the right ankle was also performed which confirmed the absence of any definitive fractures and the complete dislocation of the talus. (Figs. 4 and 5)


Figures 4 and 5   CT scans demonstrating the talar extrusion and absence of fracture(s).

Upon admission, the patient received Ancef and Gentamycin per the senior author’s open fracture protocol, in addition to ensuring tetanus prophylaxis was up to date. He was given intravenous Morphine for pain control. Dosing of aminoglycosides is not well defined in regards to Gustillo-Anderson type II and III open injuries11 – it is generally 3-5 mg/kg of body weight in divided doses for 3 days. However, high single dosing of aminoglycosides has been shown to be more effective than divided low dosing (6mg/kg given once daily). This is because the bacteriocidal effect is a result of the peak aminoglycoside concentration to minimum inhibitory concentration, not the trough levels. Moreover, nephrotoxicity and ototoxicty are a result of sustained trough concentration and not the peak concentration.

He was taken to the operating room for emergent irrigation, debridement and relocation of the talus. The wound was irrigated with 10 liter of normal saline under pulsatile lavage and wound debridement was performed appropriately. A small osteochondral depression was noted at the lateral shoulder of the talus. This was excised along with any remaining loose cartilage. The talus was then relocated with relative ease by mild plantarflexion of the forefoot and inversion of the heel.

This was performed after the calcaneus and distal foot had been relocated under the tibia and fibula. Next, a Jet X™ (Smith and Nephew, Memphis, TN) external fixator was applied in a delta configuration to the right lower extremity. (Figs. 6 and 7)


Figures 6 and 7   Intraoperative and postoperative images after reduction and stabilization with a Jet X™ (Smith and Nephew, Memphis, TN) external fixator in a simple delta frame configuration.

A Steinman pin was driven from the dorsal distal navicular into the talus to maintain the reduction. (Fig. 8) The wound was then irrigated with another 6 liter of normal saline with wound cultures taken. The wound was left open with plans for delayed primary closure in approximately three days.

Figure 8   Postoperative radiographs after reduction and stabilization with a Jet X™ external fixator in a simple delta frame configuration.  The large Steinman pin is seen through the calcaneus after reduction of the body of the talus.

The patient was admitted to the surgical floor. During his hospital stay, he had a low grade fever and mild leukocytosis during the first 24 hours, but was afebrible with a normal white count thereafter. Wound cultures were negative over three days. The wound was then closed four days later after further irrigation, at which time antibiotics were discontinued.

Postoperatively, the patient was kept non-weight bearing to the right lower extremity. The wound healed uneventfully without any signs of superficial or deep infection.

Serial radiographs showed no evidence of osteolysis or sclerotic changes of the talus. He began using an Exogen™ bone growth stimulator (Smith and Nephew, Memphis, TN) one and half months after the initial surgery. At two months, the external fixator was removed and the patient was allowed gradual weight bearing in a fracture boot for an additional six weeks. However, he did develop superficial soft tissue infections of the transcalcaneal and distal tibial pin sites.

The calcaneal wound resolved with oral antibiotic therapy and the distal tibia pin sites healed after curettage and packing with vancomycin impregnated beads.

A positive Hawkins sign was noted on radiographs three months after the initial injury (Figs.9 and 10) 3½ months postoperatively, he began ambulating in an ankle stirrup and proceeded to heal uneventfully with a full return to activities.

Figure 9   One month after removal of the external fixator demonstrating an early Hawkin’s sign, as best seen on the mortise view.

Figure 10   Another radiographic view one month after removal of the external fixator demonstrating an early Hawkins sign.


According to Wagner, et al, [1] the talus forms the peak of the hindfoot skeleton and transfers the whole weight of the body by itself onto the foot bones. The talus is responsible for the transfer of weight from the tibia to the foot via dissipation of forces to the subtalar, the calcaneocuboid and talonavicular joints. Three-fifths of the talus is covered by articular cartilage.

It is the only bone in the lower extremity without any muscular attachments, making it somewhat vulnerable in the presence of injury. [2] Despite this, pure total dislocation without any associated fractures is rare due to the strong ligamentous attachment of the talus to adjoining midfoot bones [3] and probably due to the amount of force necessary for such an injury.[4] Seventy five percent of these injuries are usually open injuries or the skin may be so tented over the talus that sloughing ultimately results.[5]

No specific mechanism of injury has been described. It is thought that total talar dislocation is the end point of maximum pronation or supination injuries; the final point of a continuum of forces that begin with dislocation of the subtalar joint.[5] A stronger injuring force applied over a long period of time eventually forces the talus out of the mortise. Injuries can occur after falling from a height, in motor vehicle accidents or sometimes during normal physical activities.

Osteomyelitis and AVN of the talus are legitimate concerns that can affect patient morbidity when treating these injuries. Other considerations include disruption to the vascular supply of surrounding soft tissue, possible damage to lymphatics, ligaments, joint capsule and tendons; all of which increase the risk of infection of both the bone and soft tissue. The vascular supply of the talus has been well described. Although there is variation in anatomy, five major vessels supply the talus. The extraosseous vascular supply comes from the anterior tibial, the posterior tibial and the perforating peroneal arteries. The artery of the sinus tarsi is an anastamosis of the lateral tarsal artery and the perforating peroneal artery. This in turn, anastamoses with the artery of the tarsal canal, a branch of the posterior tibial artery – forming an anastamotic ring about the talar neck.

The talar body is mainly supplied by the artery of the tarsal canal as well as the deltoid artery, a branch of the posterior tibial artery. [6] The posterior process is supplied by small branches of the peroneal artery and calcaneal branches from the posterior tibal artery.

The amount of articular cartilage covering the talus limits the area that remains for penetration of nutrient arteries. The likelihood of AVN is determined by the amount of soft tissue damage about the talus and how much of the numerous anastamoses as described by Mulfinger and Tureta [7] remain intact. Much of the talus is supplied by separate variable intraosseous anastamoses. Numerous anastamoses among all the arteries in the talus is one reason talar AVN is relatively uncommon. The occurrence of AVN is determined by how complete the intraosseous anastamoses are among the remaining intact vessels and the amount of damage to the soft tissue.

Treatment recommendations have evolved from primary amputation, to talectomy with tibiocalcaneal arthrodesis [8] and most recently, with reinsertion of the talus. According to Huang, et al., [9] reinsertion is preferable provided the wound is relatively clean and talus is still attached – even if by a soft tissue strand. Palomo-Traver, et al., [3] also suggested the deformity be reduced with the exception of gross contamination or complete extrusion, as he suggested the risk of infection and AVN correlates with the degree of extrusion of the bone. Primary subtalar joint or pantalar arthrodesis has been recommended in cases of failed reduction in an effort to facilitate revascularization of the talus. Care should be taken to ensure adequate debridement of all non-viable tissue. This decreases the chances of soft tissue infection which could propagate to the bone.

In our case, the wound was not grossly contaminated with debris and there was no involvement of tendinous structures that could have tracked infection more proximally. Appropriate irrigation and debridement was performed. There was adequate soft tissue for wound closure after negative cultures; all of which helped decrease the likelihood of soft tissue or bone infection. A complete Hawkin’s sign was noted at three months post injury indicating full preservation of blood supply to the talus.

A Hawkin’s sign is typically seen between six to eight weeks10, but has been reported as late as two years. [4] A partial Hawkin’s sign has also been reported which is associated with partial AVN of the talus. [6] Our patient experienced none of the major complications associated with total talar dislocation. He returned to pre-injury function levels, walking and running 1-2 miles per day and reporting only occasional pain. He may not however, escape post traumatic arthritis which may develop in any or all of the joints disrupted by the injury.


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Address correspondence to: Mark A. Hardy, DPM, FACFAS
Kaiser Permanente Foundation Department of Podiatric Surgery
12301 Snow Road Parma, OH 44130
Email: markhardy@sbcglobal.net

1 Director, Cleveland Clinic/Kaiser Permanente. Foot & Ankle Residency Program. Director, Foot and Ankle Trauma Service. Kaiser Permanente – Ohio Region.
2 Senior Resident, Kaiser Permanente/Cleveland Clinic Foundation Residency Program, Cleveland, Ohio.

© The Foot & Ankle Journal, 2008