Complex Distal Humeral Fractures: Internal Fixation with a Principle-Based Parallel-Plate Technique

Sanchez-Sotelo, Joaquin; Torchia, Michael E.; O'Driscoll, Shawn W.
March 2008
Journal of Bone & Joint Surgery, American Volume;Mar2008 Supplement, Vol. 90-A, p31
Academic Journal
BACKGROUND: Severe comminution, bone loss, and osteopenia at the site of a distal humeral fracture increase the risk of an unsatisfactory result, often secondary to inadequate fixation. The purpose of this study was to determine the outcome of treating these fractures with a principle-based technique that maximizes fixation in the articular fragments and stability at the supracondylar level. METHODS: Thirty-four consecutive complex distal humeral fractures were fixed with two parallel plates applied (medially and laterally) in approximately the sagittal plane. The technique was specifically designed to satisfy two principles: (1) fixation in the distal fragments should be maximized and (2) screw fixation in the distal segment should contribute to stability at the supracondylar level. Twenty-six fractures were AO type C3, and fourteen were open. Thirty-two fractures were followed for a mean of two years. The patients were assessed clinically with use of the Mayo Elbow Performance Score (MEPS) and radiographically. RESULTS: Neither hardware failure nor fracture displacement occurred in any patient. Union of thirty-one of the thirty-two fractures was achieved primarily. Five patients underwent additional surgery to treat elbow stiffness. There was one deep infection that resolved without hardware removal and did not impede union. At the time of the most recent follow-up, twenty-eight elbows were either not painful or only mildly painful, and the mean flexion-extension arc was 99°. The mean MEPS was 85 points. The result was graded as excellent for eleven elbows, good for sixteen, fair for two, and poor for three. CONCLUSIONS: Stable fixation and a high rate of union of complex distal humeral fractures can be achieved when a principle-based surgical technique that maximizes fixation in the distal segments and stability at the supracondylar level is employed. The early stability achieved with this technique permits intensive rehabilitation to restore elbow motion.


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