Torsional Failure of Carbon Fiber Composite Plates Versus Stainless Steel Plates for Comminuted Distal Fibula Fractures

William K. Wilson, Randal P. Morris, Adam J. Ward, Nikoletta L. Carayannopoulos, Vinod K. Panchbhavi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


Background: Carbon fiber composite implants are gaining popularity in orthopedics, but with few independent studies of their failure characteristics under supra-physiologic loads. The objective of this cadaveric study was to compare torsional failure properties of bridge plating a comminuted distal fibula fracture with carbon fiber polyetheretherketone (PEEK) composite and stainless steel one-third tubular plates. Methods: Comminuted fractures were simulated in 12 matched pairs of fresh-frozen human fibulas with 2-mm osteotomies located 3 cm proximal to the tibiotalar joint. Each fibula pair was randomized for fixation and implanted with carbon fiber and stainless steel 5-hole one-third tubular plates. The constructs were loaded in external rotation at a rate of 1-degree/sec until failure with a materials testing system. Torsional stiffness and mode of failure, as well as displacement, torque, and energy absorption for the first instance of failure and peak failure, were determined. Statistical analysis was performed with paired t tests and chi-square. Results: There were no significant differences among the 12 pairs for torsional stiffness, first failure torque, peak failure displacement, peak failure torque, or peak failure energy. Stainless steel plates exhibited significantly higher displacement (P <.001) and energy absorption (P =.001) at the first indication of failure than the carbon fiber plates. Stainless steel plates permanently deformed significantly more often than the carbon fiber plates (P =.035). Carbon fiber plates exhibited no plastic deformation with delamination of the composite, and brittle catastrophic failure in 1 specimen. Conclusions: In a comminuted human fibula fracture fixation model, carbon fiber implants exhibited multiple pre-peak failures at significantly lower angles than the first failure for the stainless steel implants, with some delamination of composite layers and brittle catastrophic failure rather than plastic deformation. Clinical relevance: The torsional failure properties of carbon fiber composite one-third tubular plates determined in this independent study provide novel in vitro data for this alternative implant material.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)548-553
Number of pages6
JournalFoot and Ankle International
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2016


  • biomechanics
  • carbon fiber
  • fibula fracture
  • one-third tubular plates
  • stainless steel

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine


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