Comparative Study
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Humeral shaft fractures: retrospective results of non-operative and operative treatment of 186 patients.

Injury 2013 April
BACKGROUND: Humeral shaft fractures account for 1-3% of all fractures and 20% of the fractures involving the humerus. The aim of the current study was to compare the outcome after operative and non-operative treatment of humeral shaft fractures, by comparing the time to radiological union and the rates of delayed union and complications.

METHODS: All patients aged 16 years or over treated for a humeral shaft fracture during a 5-year period were included in this retrospective analysis; periprosthetic and pathological fractures were excluded. Radiographs and medical charts were retrieved and reviewed in order to collect data on fracture classification, time to radiographic consolidation and the occurrence of adverse events.

RESULTS: A total of 186 patients were included; 91 were treated non-operatively and 95 were treated operatively. Mean age was 58.7 ± 1.5 years and 57.0% were female. In 83.3% of the patients, only the humerus was affected. A fall from standing height was the most common cause of the fracture (72.0%). Consolidation time varied from a median of 11-28 weeks. The rate of radial nerve palsy in both groups was similar: 8.8% versus 9.5%. In 5.3% of the operatively treated patients, the palsy resulted from the operation. Likewise, delayed union rates were similar in both groups: 18.7% following non-operative treatment versus 18.9% following surgery.

CONCLUSION: The data indicated that consolidation time and complication rates were similar after operative and non-operative treatment. A prospective randomised clinical trial comparing non-operative with operative treatment is needed in order to examine other aspects of outcome, meaning shoulder and elbow function, postoperative infection rates, trauma-related quality of life and patient satisfaction.

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