Avoiding iatrogenic radial nerve injury during humeral fracture surgery: a modified approach to the distal humerus

Acta Orthop Traumatol Turc. 2012;46(1):8-12. doi: 10.3944/aott.2012.2564.


Objective: Our aim was to assess the results of posterior retraction technique to prevent iatrogenic radial nerve injury during humeral fracture surgery.

Methods: Seventy-two patients who underwent surgery for a distal humerus fracture between 1996 and 2002 were reviewed. These 72 patients comprised Group 1. Following a cadaveric study on the vascularization of the radial nerve, a modified surgical approach was undertaken starting in 2002. Sixty-one patients who underwent this new surgical approach were included in Group 2. The rates of radial nerve deficit of the groups were compared using the Pearson chi-square test.

Results: In Group 1, 19 iatrogenic nerve deficits occurred. After defining the blood circulation of the nerve, the lateral approach was modified. The anterolateral side of the nerve was released and the nerve was left attached to the triceps muscle. In Group 2, one patient developed postoperative transient nerve deficit.

Conclusion: The radial nerve is supplied by the branches of the deep brachial artery in close relation with the triceps muscle. Anterior dissection and posterior retraction of the radial nerve during lateral approach may preserve its blood supply and reduces the risk of iatrogenic injury.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Bone Plates
  • Bone Screws
  • Cadaver
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Fracture Fixation, Internal / adverse effects*
  • Fracture Fixation, Internal / methods
  • Humans
  • Humeral Fractures / surgery*
  • Humerus / innervation*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Orthopedic Procedures / methods
  • Radial Nerve / injuries
  • Radial Nerve / surgery*
  • Radial Neuropathy / etiology*
  • Radial Neuropathy / prevention & control*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Treatment Outcome