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Incidence and pattern of technical complications in balloon-guided osteoplasty for depressed tibial plateau fractures: a pilot study in 20 consecutive patients

Cyril Mauffrey, Ryan Fader, E Mark Hammerberg, David J Hak and Philip F Stahel*

Author Affiliations

Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, Denver Health Medical Center, University of Colorado, School of Medicine, 777 Bannock Street, Denver, CO 80204, USA

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Patient Safety in Surgery 2013, 7:8  doi:10.1186/1754-9493-7-8

Published: 1 March 2013



Inflation bone tamps are becoming increasingly popular as a reduction tool for depressed tibial plateau fractures. A number of recent publications have addressed the technical aspects of balloon inflation osteoplasty. However, no study has yet been published to describe the technical limitations, intraoperative complications, and surgical bailout strategies for this new technology.


Observational retrospective study of all patients managed with inflatable bone tamps for depressed tibial plateau fractures between October 1, 2010 and December 1, 2012. The primary outcome parameter was the rate of complications, which were stratified into “minor” and “major” depending on the necessity for altering the surgical plan intraoperatively, and based on the risk for patient harm. This study was approved by the Institutional Review Board of the State of Colorado.


A consecutive series of 20 patients were managed by balloon inflation osteoplasty for depressed tibial plateau fractures during the 15 months study period. The mean age was 42.8 years (range 20–79), with 9 females and 11 males. A total of 13 patients sustained an adverse intraoperative event (65%), with three patients sustaining multiple technical complications. Minor events (n = 8) included the burst of a balloon with extrusion of contrast dye, and the unintentional posterior wall displacement during balloon inflation. Major events (n = 5) included the intra-articular injection of calcium phosphate in the knee joint, and the inability to elevate the depressed articular fragment with the inflatable bone tamp.


The observed intraoperative complication rate of 65% reflects a steep learning curve for the use of inflation bone tamps to reduce depressed tibial plateau fractures. Specific surgical bailout options are provided in this article, based on our early anecdotal experience in a pilot series of 20 consecutive cases. Patients should be advised on the benefits and risks of this new technology as part of the shared decision-making process during the informed consent.