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JOURNAL ARTICLE

Extra-articular distal-third diaphyseal fractures of the humerus. A comparison of functional bracing and plate fixation

Andrew Jawa, Pearce McCarty, Job Doornberg, Mitch Harris, David Ring
Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery. American Volume 2006, 88 (11): 2343-7
17079389

BACKGROUND: There are strong advocates for both operative and nonoperative treatment of distal-third diaphyseal fractures of the humerus, but there are few comparative data. We performed a retrospective comparison of these two treatment methods.

METHODS: Fifty-one consecutive patients with a closed, extra-articular fracture of the distal one-third of the humeral diaphysis were identified from an orthopaedic trauma database. Forty patients were followed for at least six months or until healing of the fracture. Eleven patients were excluded because of inadequate follow-up. Nineteen patients had been managed with plate-and-screw fixation, and twenty-one had been managed with functional bracing.

RESULTS: Among the operatively treated patients, one had loss of fixation, one had a postoperative infection, and one required tendon transfers for the treatment of a preoperative radial nerve palsy that did not resolve. Three new postoperative radial nerve palsies developed, and one had not resolved when the patient was last evaluated, three months after surgery. All operatively treated fractures healed with <10 degrees of angular deformity, and one patient lost 20 degrees of shoulder or elbow motion. Among the nonoperatively treated fractures, two were converted to plate fixation because of the treating surgeons' concern regarding alignment and radial nerve palsy. Only one patient had >30 degrees of malalignment in any plane. Two patients had development of skin breakdown during treatment and completed treatment in a sling. Two patients lost >/=20 degrees of elbow or shoulder motion.

CONCLUSIONS: For extra-articular distal-third diaphyseal humeral fractures, operative treatment achieves more predictable alignment and potentially quicker return of function but risks iatrogenic nerve injury and infection and the need for reoperation. Functional bracing can be associated with skin problems and varying degrees of angular deformity, but function and range of motion are usually excellent.

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