Terrible triad injury of the elbow: how to improve outcomes?

Orthop Traumatol Surg Res. 2010 Apr;96(2):147-54. doi: 10.1016/j.rcot.2010.02.008.


Introduction: Dislocation of the elbow joint combined with fractures of the radial head and ulnar coronoid process is referred to as Terrible Triad Injury (TTI). The purpose of this study is to report our experience in the management of this specific injury and to validate the therapeutic choices of our treatment.

Material and methods: Between 1996 and 2006, 23 TTI in 22 patients were treated in our department. Fifteen males and seven females of mean age 46 years were included in this series.Internal fixation of the radial head was performed in 13 cases and arthroplasty in four. Fractures of the coronoid process were managed by surgical fixation in 10 cases. All torn ligaments were reconstructed which include 19 lateral and six medial ligament reconstructions.

Results: Thirteen patients (14 elbows) were reviewed at a mean follow-up of 63 months, four patients at a mean follow-up of 11 month (range, 6 to 18 months), and five patients were lost to follow-up. All patients had stable elbow joint and in 90% of the cases, patients reported mild or no elbow pain. The arc of extension-flexion ranged from 18 to 127 grades, while the average arc of pronation-supination was 134 grades. The mean Mayo Elbow Performance Score was 87. Only one patient suffered from osteoarthritis 8 years after trauma and all elbows were centred on X-rays. Negative prognosis factor was associated with Mason type 3 radial head fractures.

Discussion and conclusion: The principle of the surgical management is based on two main objectives: restoration of bony stabilizing structures (radial head and coronoid process) and lateral collateral ligament reconstruction. A medial surgical approach is recommended in the case of persistent posterolateral instability following lateral collateral ligament reconstruction or when fixation of a large coronoid process fragment is indicated. The use of an external fixator is only advocated in case of persistent instability following the reconstruction of bony and ligamentous structures.

Level of evidence: Level IV: Retrospective study.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Arthroplasty
  • Collateral Ligaments / surgery
  • Elbow Joint / diagnostic imaging
  • Elbow Joint / injuries*
  • Elbow Joint / physiopathology
  • Female
  • Fracture Fixation, Internal
  • Humans
  • Joint Dislocations / diagnostic imaging
  • Joint Dislocations / epidemiology*
  • Joint Dislocations / physiopathology
  • Joint Dislocations / surgery
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Radiography
  • Radius Fractures / diagnostic imaging
  • Radius Fractures / epidemiology*
  • Radius Fractures / surgery
  • Range of Motion, Articular
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Ulna Fractures / epidemiology*
  • Ulna Fractures / surgery