Comparative Study
Journal Article
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Analysis of the complications of palmar plating versus external fixation for fractures of the distal radius.

PURPOSE: To evaluate whether there was a difference in complication rates in our patients treated with external fixation versus volar plating of distal radius fractures. We also looked for a difference in radiographic results; in the clinical outcomes of flexion, extension, supination, pronation, and grip strength; and in scores on the visual analog scale (VAS) for pain and the Disabilities of the Arm, Shoulder, and Hand (DASH) questionnaire.

METHODS: We reviewed 115 patients with comminuted intrarticular distal radius fractures. Of those patients, 59 were treated with external fixation and 56 with volar plate fixation. Postoperative radiographs, range of motion, and grip strength were measured; DASH and VAS pain questionnaires were administered; and complications were documented.

RESULTS: The external fixation group had a significantly higher overall complication rate. In the volar plate group, there were more tendon and median nerve complications, but this difference was not significant. Radiographically, the external fixator group demonstrated radial shortening of 0.7 mm, whereas the volar plate group demonstrated 0.3 mm of radial shortening during the postoperative period. There were no significant differences between the groups in the measurement of scapholunate angle or palmar tilt. The mean DASH score at final follow-up was 32 in the external fixation group and 17 in the volar plate group, which was statistically significant. The final VAS scores were statistically different at 3.1 for the external fixation group and 1.1 for the volar plate group. On physical examination, the volar plate group had significantly better arc of motion in pronation-supination and flexion-extension and better grip strength.

CONCLUSIONS: In the patients we studied, volar plate fixation has an overall decreased incidence of complications and significantly better motion in flexion-extension and supination-pronation compared to external fixation. Volar plate fixation also has less radial shortening than the external fixation group, yet the absolute difference in magnitude of ulnar variance was only 1.4 mm, calling into question the clinical significance of this difference. Patients with volar plating also have better pain and functional outcomes and better grip strength.

TYPE OF STUDY/LEVEL OF EVIDENCE: Therapeutic III.

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