Surgical treatment of "terrible triad of the elbow": technique and outcome

Yu-xing Wang, Li-xin Huang, San-hui Ma
Orthopaedic Surgery 2010, 2 (2): 141-8

OBJECTIVE: To describe the authors' surgical technique and to evaluate the final functional outcome of surgical treatment of the "terrible triad of the elbow".

METHODS: Eight patients identified with "terrible triad" injury patterns, including posterior elbow dislocation, radial head fracture and coronoid fracture, were available for a minimum of 11 months follow-up. Evaluation of functional outcome was based on Mayo elbow performance, Broberg-Morrey scores, and the Disabilities of the Arm, Shoulder and Hand (DASH) questionnaire. Complications were also recorded.

RESULTS: Five elbows redislocated while in a splint after manipulative reduction. Three had residual subluxation after operative treatment. The final mean extent of forearm movement was as follows: 21° of extension deficit (range, 5° to 45°), 126° of flexion (range, 110° to 140°), 75° of supination (range, 45° to 90°), and 71° of pronation (range, 30° to 90°). The mean Mayo, Broberg-Morrey, and DASH scores were 78.0 ± 13.4, 76.0 ± 14.0, and 28.0 ± 24.7, respectively.

CONCLUSIONS: When an elbow joint is affected by the terrible triad, it is very unstable and prone to numerous complications. With operative treatment, the surgeon should attempt to perform internal fixation of the coronoid fracture, to regain normal radiocapitellar contact (either by preserving the radial head with open reduction and internal fixation (ORIF) or by replacing it with a prosthesis), and to repair the lateral collateral ligament (LCL). Thus early functional recovery and a successful final functional outcome can be achieved.

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