Outcome of nonoperative vs operative treatment of humeral shaft fractures: a retrospective study of 213 patients

Orthopedics. 2010 Aug 11;33(8). doi: 10.3928/01477447-20100625-16.


Standard treatment for most humeral shaft fractures is nonoperative functional bracing; however, certain clinical scenarios necessitate operative intervention. There have been few studies in the literature comparing nonoperative and operative fixation of humeral shaft fractures. Two-hundred thirteen adult patients with a humeral shaft fracture who satisfied inclusion criteria were treated at 2 level 1 trauma centers with either a functional brace (nonoperative treatment group) or compression plating (operative treatment group). Main outcome measures were evaluated retrospectively and included time to union, nonunion, malunion, infection, incidence of radial nerve palsy, and elbow range of motion (ROM). The occurrence of nonunion (20.6% vs 8.7%; P=.0128) and malunion (12.7% vs 1.3%; P=.0011) was statistically significant and more common in the nonoperative group. There was no significant difference in infection rate between nonoperative and operative treatment (3.2% vs 4.7%; P=1.0000). Radial nerve palsy presented after fracture treatment in 9.5% of patients in the nonoperative group and in 2.7% of patients managed operatively (P=.0678). No difference in time to union or ultimate ROM was found between the 2 groups. Closed treatment of humerus fractures had a significantly higher rate of nonunion and malunion while operative intervention demonstrated no significant differences in time to union, infection, or iatrogenic radial nerve palsy. Nonoperative management has historically been the treatment of choice for many humeral shaft fractures, however, in certain clinical scenarios these fractures may be well served by compression plating.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Multicenter Study

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Braces*
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Fracture Fixation / adverse effects
  • Fracture Fixation / methods*
  • Fracture Healing
  • Fractures, Malunited / epidemiology
  • Fractures, Malunited / etiology
  • Fractures, Ununited / epidemiology
  • Fractures, Ununited / etiology
  • Humans
  • Humeral Fractures / diagnosis
  • Humeral Fractures / therapy*
  • Incidence
  • Internal Fixators*
  • Male
  • Radial Neuropathy / epidemiology
  • Radial Neuropathy / etiology
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Treatment Outcome