Causes of delayed diagnosis of posterior ankle impingement in the pediatric and adolescent population

Purpose: The purpose of this study was to identify and characterize various causes of delay in the diagnosis of posterior ankle impingement syndrome (PAIS) in pediatric patients.

Methods: IRB approved prospective study of patients under 18 years who underwent arthroscopic surgery for the diagnosis of posterior ankle impingement after failed conservative treatment at a tertiary children’s hospital. Radiographic findings were compared with an age-matched control group. Descriptive and inferential statistics were employed.

Results: 47 patients (61 ankles), mean age 13 years, had an average 14 months delay in diagnosis of PAIS from the initial presentation. 33 (70%) patients had seen multiple medical providers and given other diagnoses. 9 (19%) patients participated in ballet or soccer, and 16 (34%) patients had unrelated associated foot and ankle diagnoses. 25 (41%) of 61 ankles did not have pain on forced plantar flexion; all 61(100%) ankles had tenderness to palpation over the posterior ankle joint line. Radiographs were reported to be normal in 37/52 (71%) ankles, while MRI report did not mention the diagnosis in 20/41 (49%) studies. There was a significant difference in the MRI findings in the patient population when compared to the control group. Indication for surgery was failed conservative treatment. All 61 ankles had posterior ankle impingement pathology confirmed visually during arthroscopy. At average 15 months follow-up, there was significant improvement pre- to post-operatively (p<0.001) for both pain VAS (6.9-0.9) and AOFAS ankle-hindfoot scores (65-94).

Conclusion: Multiple clinical and imaging factors can lead to delayed diagnosis of posterior ankle impingement. An increased awareness about the features of PAIS is needed amongst medical providers involved in treating young patients.

Keywords: Ankle arthroscopy; Ankle pain; Os trigonum; Pediatric ankle; Posterior ankle impingement.