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Nerve and vessel injuries during high tibial osteotomy combined with distal fibular osteotomy: a clinically relevant anatomic study

  • Knee
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Knee Surgery, Sports Traumatology, Arthroscopy Aims and scope


Based on our clinical experience and an anatomical study, we examined the conditions under which injury to the popliteal artery, tibial nerve or peroneal nerve and its branches may occur during high tibial osteotomy. In 250 high tibial osteotomies performed in our department, we observed the following intraoperative complications. (1) The popliteal artery was severed in 1 patient and repaired by the same surgical team using a microsurgical technique. (2) A tibial nerve paresis also occurred in 1 patient. (3) In 3 patients, temporary palsy of the anterior tibialis muscle was documented. (4) In 4 other patients, palsy of the extensor hallucis longus occurred. To investigate the causes of these complications in the popliteal artery, tibial nerve and branches of the peroneal nerve, we dissected the neurovascular structures surrounding the area of the osteotomy in 10 cadaveric knees and performed a high tibial osteotomy in another 13 cadaveric knees. We concluded the following. (1) The popliteal artery and tibial nerve are protected, at the level of the osteotomy, behind the popliteus and tibialis posterior muscles. Damage can occur only by placing the Hohman retractor behind the muscles. The insertion of the muscles is very close to the periosteum and can be separated only with a scalpel. (2) The tibialis anterior muscle is innervated by a group of branches arising from the deep branch of the peroneal nerve. In two-thirds of the dissected knees, we found a main branch close to the periosteum, which can be damaged by dividing the muscle improperly or due to improper placement and pressure of the Hohman retractor. This may explain the partially reversible muscle palsy. (3) The extensor hallucis longus is also innervated by 2–3 thin branches, arising from the deep branch of the peroneal nerve, but in 25% of the specimens, only one large branch was found. This branch is placed under tension by manipulating the distal tibia forward. Thus, it may be damaged by the Hohman retractor during distal screw fixation, tensioned by hyperextension or directly injured during midshaft fibular osteotomy.

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Received: 12 May 1997 Accepted: 12 November 1997

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Georgoulis, A., Makris, C., Papageorgiou, C. et al. Nerve and vessel injuries during high tibial osteotomy combined with distal fibular osteotomy: a clinically relevant anatomic study. Knee Surgery 7, 15–19 (1999).

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