The Use of the Lateral Tibial Line to Assess Ankle Alignment: A Preliminary Investigation

Document Type


Publication Date



Surgery, Orthopedics

Journal Title

The Journal of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons


BACKGROUND: Although the medial clear space (MCS) is commonly used to assess talar alignment and ankle stability, its measurement is variable with multiple reported normal values. We have observed that the lateral tibial shaft is a reliable landmark to assess talar alignment. The objective of the current investigation was to determine the normal relationship of the lateral tibia to the superolateral talus using a tangent drawn inferiorly from the lateral tibial shaft, which we refer to as the "lateral tibial line" (LTL). METHODS: The relationship of the LTL to the superolateral talus was assessed by three reviewers on 99 standing ankle mortise radiographs in uninjured patients. This relationship was quantified by measuring the distance (in millimeters) between the LTL and the superolateral talus. In addition, the interobserver reliability of the LTL measurement was recorded and compared with that of the MCS. RESULTS: The median value for the distance between the superolateral talus and LTL was -0.50 mm with an interquartile range of -1.4 to 0.0 mm. The LTL was within 1 mm of the lateral talus in 176 of 297 reviewer measurements (59.3%). Moreover, it was either lateral to or at most 1 mm medial to the lateral talus in 90.9% of cases. The LTL measurement also demonstrated good interobserver reliability (0.764, 95% confidence interval, 0.670 to 0.834), similar to the measurement of MCS (0.742, 95% confidence interval, 0.539 to 0.846). CONCLUSIONS: The relationship between the LTL and superolateral talus is easily measured with good reliability for assessing the anatomic relationship of the tibia and talus. The LTL uncommonly fell more than 1 mm medial to the superolateral talus, as might be seen with displaced ankle fractures. These findings will hopefully serve as a basis for future studies evaluating its role in assessing lateral displacement and stability of isolated fibula fractures. LEVEL OF EVIDENCE: Level III, retrospective review.