Hinged elbow fixation for recurrent instability following fracture dislocation

D S Ruch, C R Triepel
Injury 2001, 32 Suppl 4: SD70-8
The purpose of this study was to evaluate the use of an articulated external fixator of the elbow in the management of instability after fracture dislocation. We retrospectively reviewed results of eight patients treated with an articulated external fixator between 1998 and 1999. Study inclusion criteria included recurrent/chronic dislocation following fracture dislocation. Patients were divided into two groups based on the onset of instability. Group I (n=3) included patients with acute instability. The indication for use of the articulated external fixator in this subset of patients was the inability to accomplish complete osseous and ligamentous repair secondary to high degrees of comminution and/or severe soft tissue defects. Group II (n=5) patients presented at least 6 weeks after the original injury; the indication for use of the external fixator was inability to maintain joint congruity following open reduction. Application of the fixator was performed as an alternative to reconstruction of both medial and lateral ligaments. Follow-up at 1.5 years consisted of radiographs, occupational therapy ROM and DASH outcome measurement. At follow-up, Group I patients maintained an average total arc of motion of 120 degree, average flexion contracture: 25 degree, average pronation: 90 degree, and average supination: 67 degree. Group II patients had an average total arc of motion of 84 degree, average flexion contracture: 33 degree, average pronation: 68 degree, and average supination: 43 degree. Radiographic appearance of patients in both groups revealed a congruent humero-ulnar joint. DASH forms indicated patients experienced mild difficulty with activities of daily living. In conclusion, global instability of the elbow after fracture dislocation remains a difficult problem. High-energy injuries may result in an inability to maintain a congruous humero-ulnar articulation despite osteosynthesis and direct repair of the medial collateral ligament (MCL) and LUCL. When repair of the coronoid process and MCL is not feasible secondary to excessive comminution or soft tissue defect, the use of an articulated external fixator permits concentric stability and reduction of the humero-ulnar articulation. In cases of chronic instability, application of an articulated external fixator provides an alternative to complete osseous and ligamentous reconstruction. In both acute and chronic situations, the use of the articulated elbow fixator results in most patients regaining very good functional use of the elbow.

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