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ORIF for Heel Fractures: Techniques and Outcomes

Heel fractures can be a debilitating injury that significantly impacts a person’s mobility and quality of life. When conservative treatments fail to provide adequate relief, surgical intervention may be necessary. One common surgical technique used for heel fractures is open reduction and internal fixation (ORIF). This procedure involves realigning the fractured bones and securing them with screws, plates, or other fixation devices. ORIF for heel fractures has evolved over the years, with various techniques and approaches being developed to improve outcomes. In this article, we will explore the different techniques used in ORIF for heel fractures and discuss the outcomes associated with each approach.

1. Anatomy and Classification of Heel Fractures

Before delving into the techniques and outcomes of ORIF for heel fractures, it is essential to understand the anatomy of the heel and the classification of heel fractures. The heel bone, also known as the calcaneus, is the largest bone in the foot. It plays a crucial role in weight-bearing and provides stability to the foot.

Heel fractures can occur in various locations within the calcaneus, and the severity of the fracture can vary. The Sanders classification system is commonly used to classify heel fractures based on the involvement of different fracture lines and the displacement of bone fragments. This classification system helps guide treatment decisions and predict outcomes.

2. Traditional ORIF Techniques

Traditional ORIF techniques for heel fractures involve making an incision over the fractured area, exposing the fractured bones, and realigning them using screws, plates, or other fixation devices. The choice of fixation method depends on the fracture pattern and the surgeon’s preference.

One commonly used technique is the extensile lateral approach, which provides excellent exposure of the calcaneus. This approach involves making a long incision on the lateral side of the foot and dissecting through the soft tissues to access the fractured bones. The advantage of this technique is the direct visualization of the fracture, allowing for accurate reduction and fixation.

Another technique is the sinus tarsi approach, which involves making a smaller incision on the lateral side of the foot, specifically over the sinus tarsi region. This approach provides a more limited exposure but can be advantageous in certain fracture patterns where the fracture line extends into the subtalar joint.

3. Minimally Invasive Techniques

In recent years, minimally invasive techniques have gained popularity in the treatment of heel fractures. These techniques aim to reduce surgical trauma, minimize soft tissue damage, and promote faster recovery.

Percutaneous screw fixation is one such minimally invasive technique. It involves making small incisions and using fluoroscopic guidance to insert screws into the fractured calcaneus. This technique avoids extensive soft tissue dissection and provides stable fixation.

Another minimally invasive technique is the use of external fixation. External fixators are devices that are placed outside the body and connected to the fractured bones using pins or wires. They provide stability and allow for early weight-bearing. However, external fixation is typically used as a temporary measure before definitive fixation with ORIF.

4. Outcomes and Complications

The outcomes of ORIF for heel fractures can vary depending on several factors, including the fracture pattern, the surgical technique used, and the patient’s overall health. Overall, ORIF has been shown to be an effective treatment option for displaced and unstable heel fractures.

Studies have reported good to excellent outcomes in terms of pain relief, functional recovery, and restoration of normal foot alignment. Patients who undergo ORIF for heel fractures generally experience improved mobility and a return to their pre-injury activities.

However, like any surgical procedure, ORIF for heel fractures is not without its complications. Common complications include infection, wound healing problems, nerve injury, and hardware-related issues. The risk of complications can be minimized through proper surgical technique, careful patient selection, and postoperative management.

5. Advances in ORIF Techniques

Advances in technology and surgical techniques have led to further refinements in ORIF for heel fractures. One such advancement is the use of computer-assisted navigation systems. These systems provide real-time feedback to the surgeon during the procedure, improving the accuracy of fracture reduction and implant placement.

Another area of advancement is the use of biologic adjuncts, such as bone grafts and growth factors, to enhance bone healing. These adjuncts can promote faster and more robust bone union, particularly in complex or high-risk fractures.

Additionally, the development of new implant designs and materials has improved the stability and durability of fixation constructs. Biodegradable implants, for example, offer the advantage of avoiding the need for implant removal surgery.


ORIF for heel fractures is a surgical technique that has evolved over the years to improve outcomes and patient satisfaction. Traditional techniques, such as the extensile lateral approach and sinus tarsi approach, have been effective in achieving fracture reduction and promoting healing. Minimally invasive techniques, such as percutaneous screw fixation and external fixation, offer the advantages of reduced surgical trauma and faster recovery.

Overall, ORIF for heel fractures has shown good to excellent outcomes in terms of pain relief, functional recovery, and restoration of normal foot alignment. However, it is important to be aware of the potential complications associated with the procedure and take appropriate measures to minimize their occurrence.

Advances in ORIF techniques, such as computer-assisted navigation systems and biologic adjuncts, continue to improve surgical outcomes and patient outcomes. These advancements offer the potential for even better results in the future.

In conclusion, ORIF for heel fractures is a valuable treatment option that can significantly improve the lives of patients with this debilitating injury. By understanding the different techniques and outcomes associated with ORIF, healthcare professionals can make informed decisions and provide the best possible care for their patients.

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