Background: Supracondylar fractures of the humerus are the most frequently seen elbow fractures in children. One of the most feared complications of this fracture, that is, compartment syndrome of the forearm is seen rarely. Compartment syndrome of the upper arm is an even more rare occurrence and to date, has not been reported in association with an isolated supracondylar humerus fracture in a child.
Methods: A 9-year-old boy was cared for at our facility for a severe (Gartland type III) supracondylar humerus fracture and developed a compartment syndrome in the perioperative period. A clinical, radiographic, and literature review of this case was undertaken to better define this occurrence.
Results: This patient sustained a closed supracondylar humerus fracture in association with a motor and sensory deficit of the radial nerve. Because of the severity of the deformity, a provisional reduction was performed in the emergency department. Eleven hours after the injury, a routine closed reduction and percutaneous pinning was performed. Although significant swelling was noted at that time, compartment syndrome was not clinically suspected. He was observed as an inpatient because of this persistent swelling. Over the next day, he developed considerable tenderness over the anterior arm and mobile wad musculature, hence, compartment pressure measurements were made. These confirmed a compartment syndrome in the anterior compartment of the arm and equivocally in the mobile wad. An urgent compartment release of the arm was done, which resulted in full recovery.
Conclusions: This is the first report of a compartment syndrome of the arm after an isolated supracondylar humerus fracture in a child. The presence of the associated fracture made the classic signs of compartment syndrome difficult to assess. Ultimately, muscle tenderness and compartment pressure measurement were most helpful in making this diagnosis. A high index of suspicion should be maintained for compartment syndrome of the arm as well as the forearm when evaluating children with severe supracondylar humerus fractures.
Level of evidence: Level IV, case report.