ORIF of Distal Humerus Fractures with Modern Pre-contoured Implants is Still Associated with a High Rate of Complications

Indian J Orthop. 2020 Apr 24;54(5):570-579. doi: 10.1007/s43465-020-00124-4. eCollection 2020 Sep.


Background: The purpose of this study was to identify complications after operative treatment of distal humerus fractures with anatomic, pre-contoured, locking distal humeral plates. We hypothesized that these fractures have high complication rates despite the use of these modern implants.

Materials and methods: Between 2010 and 2018, 43 adult patients with a distal humerus fracture underwent open reduction and internal fixation (ORIF) at a Level I trauma center. Pre-operative variables, including medical comorbidities, mechanism of injury, open or closed fracture, AO/OTA fracture classification (Type A, B, or C), and nerve palsy, were recorded. Intra-operative variables including surgical approach, ulnar nerve transposition, and plate configuration were recorded. Anatomic, pre-contoured, locking distal humeral plates were used in all patients. Various plating systems were used based on surgeon preference and fracture pattern. Post-operative complications including infection, nonunion, malunion, painful implants, nerve palsy, heterotopic ossification, stiffness, and post-traumatic arthritis were recorded.

Results: Most fractures were Type C (53%). The posterior olecranon osteotomy approach (51%) and parallel plate configuration (42%) were used in most cases. At a mean follow-up of 15 months, the complication rate was 61% (26/43 patients). Among all patients, 49% (21/43 patients) required a reoperation. Elbow stiffness (19%) was the most common complication followed by nerve palsy (16%). There were four fracture nonunions (9%), deep infections (9%), painful implants (9%), post-traumatic arthritis (9%), and heterotopic ossification (9%).

Conclusions: Distal humerus fractures treated with ORIF utilizing anatomic, pre-contoured, locking distal humeral plates have a high complication rate, with many requiring reoperation.

Level of evidence: Therapeutic Level IV.

Keywords: Complication; Distal humerus fracture; Open reduction internal fixation.