OBJECTIVES. Isolated distal fibular ankle fractures in children are very common and at very low risk for future complications. Nevertheless, standard therapy for these fractures still consists of casting, a practice that carries risks, inconveniences, and use of subspecialty health care resources. Therefore, the main objective of this study was to determine whether children who have these low-risk ankle fractures that are treated with a removable ankle brace have at least as effective a recovery of physical function as those that are treated with a cast.
METHODS. This was a noninferiority, randomized, single-blind trial in which children who were 5 to 18 years of age and treated in a pediatric emergency department for low-risk ankle fractures were randomly assigned to a removable ankle brace or a below-knee walking cast. The primary outcome at 4 weeks was physical function, measured by using the modified Activities Scale for Kids. Additional outcomes included patient preferences and costs.
RESULTS. The mean activity score at 4 weeks was 91.3% in the brace group (n = 54), and this was significantly higher than the mean of 85.3% in the cast group (n = 50). Significantly more children who were treated with a brace had returned to baseline activities by 4 weeks compared with those who were casted (80.8% vs 59.5%). Fifty-four percent of the casted children would have preferred the brace, but only 5.7% of children who received the brace would have preferred the cast. The cost-effectiveness acceptability curve was always >80%; therefore, the brace was cost-effective compared with the cast.
CONCLUSIONS. The removable ankle brace is more effective than the cast with respect to recovery of physical function, is associated with a faster return to baseline activities, is superior with respect to patient preferences, and is also cost-effective.