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AIMS: Ankle fracture is one of the most common musculoskeletal injuries sustained in the UK. Many patients experience pain and physical impairment, with the consequences of the fracture and its management lasting for several months or even years. The broad aim of ankle fracture treatment is to maintain the alignment of the joint while the fracture heals, and to reduce the risks of problems, such as stiffness. More severe injuries to the ankle are routinely treated surgically. However, even with advances in surgery, there remains a risk of complications; for patients experiencing these, the associated loss of function and quality of life (Qol) is considerable. Non-surgical treatment is an alternative to surgery and involves applying a cast carefully shaped to the patient's ankle to correct and maintain alignment of the joint with the key benefit being a reduction in the frequency of common complications of surgery. The main potential risk of non-surgical treatment is a loss of alignment with a consequent reduction in ankle function. This study aims to determine whether ankle function, four months after treatment, in patients with unstable ankle fractures treated with close contact casting is not worse than in those treated with surgical intervention, which is the current standard of care. METHODS: This trial is a pragmatic, multicentre, randomized non-inferiority clinical trial with an embedded pilot, and with 12 months clinical follow-up and parallel economic analysis. A surveillance study using routinely collected data will be performed annually to five years post-treatment. Adult patients, aged 60 years and younger, with unstable ankle fractures will be identified in daily trauma meetings and fracture clinics and approached for recruitment prior to their treatment. Treatments will be performed in trauma units across the UK by a wide range of surgeons. Details of the surgical treatment, including how the operation is done, implant choice, and the recovery programme afterwards, will be at the discretion of the treating surgeon. The non-surgical treatment will be close-contact casting performed under anaesthetic, a technique which has gained in popularity since the publication of the Ankle Injury Management (AIM) trial. In all, 890 participants (445 per group) will be randomly allocated to surgical or non-surgical treatment. Data regarding ankle function, QoL, complications, and healthcare-related costs will be collected at eight weeks, four and 12 months, and then annually for five years following treatment. The primary outcome measure is patient-reported ankle function at four months from treatment. ANTICIPATED IMPACT: The 12-month results will be presented and published internationally. This is anticipated to be the only pragmatic trial reporting outcomes comparing surgical with non-surgical treatment in unstable ankle fractures in younger adults (aged 60 years and younger), and, as such, will inform the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) 'non-complex fracture' recommendations at their scheduled update in 2024. A report of long-term outcomes at five years will be produced by January 2027.

Original publication




Journal article


Bone Jt Open

Publication Date





184 - 201