Background: The optimal treatment of displaced fractures of the proximal part of the humerus remains controversial. We evaluated the long-term functional and radiographic results of transosseous suture fixation in a series of selected displaced fractures of the proximal part of the humerus.
Methods: Over an eleven-year period, a consecutive series of 188 patients with a specifically defined displaced fracture of the proximal part of the humerus underwent open reduction and internal fixation with transosseous sutures. Twenty patients were lost to follow-up and three died before the time of follow-up, leaving a cohort of 165 patients (ninety-four women and seventy-one men; mean age, fifty-four years) available for the study. Forty-five (27%) of the injuries were four-part fractures with valgus impaction; sixty-four (39%) were three-part fractures; and fifty-six (34%) were two-part fractures of the greater tuberosity, thirty-six (64%) of which were associated with anterior dislocation of the shoulder. All fractures were fixed with transosseous, nonabsorbable, number-5 Ethibond sutures. Associated rotator cuff tears detected in fifty-seven patients (35%) were also repaired. Over a mean follow-up period of 5.4 years, functional outcome was assessed with the Constant score. Follow-up radiographs were assessed for fracture consolidation, malunion, nonunion, heterotopic ossification, and signs of impingement, humeral head osteonecrosis, and degenerative osteoarthritis.
Results: All fractures, except for two three-part fractures of the greater tuberosity, united within four months. The quality of fracture reduction as seen on the first postoperative radiograph was regarded as excellent/very good in 155 patients (94%), good in seven (4%), and poor in three (2%). Malunion was present in nine patients (5%) at the time of the last follow-up; six of the nine had had good or poor initial reduction and three, excellent/very good reduction. Humeral head osteonecrosis was seen in eleven (7%) of the 165 patients; four demonstrated total and seven, partial collapse. Fifteen patients had heterotopic ossification, but none had functional impairment. Four patients had signs of impingement syndrome, and two had arthritis. At the time of the final evaluation, the mean Constant score was 91 points, and the mean Constant score as a percentage of the score for the unaffected shoulder, unadjusted for age and gender, was 94%.
Conclusions: The clinical and radiographic results of this transosseous suture technique were found to be satisfactory at an average of 5.4 years postoperatively. Advantages of this technique include less surgical soft-tissue dissection, a low rate of humeral head osteonecrosis, fixation sufficient to allow early passive joint motion, and the avoidance of bulky and expensive implants.