One size may not fit all: patient-specific computational optimization of locking plates for improved proximal humerus fracture fixation

J Shoulder Elbow Surg. 2022 Jan;31(1):192-200. doi: 10.1016/j.jse.2021.06.012. Epub 2021 Jul 20.


Background: Optimal treatment options for proximal humerus fractures (PHFs) are still debated because of persisting high fixation failure rates experienced with locking plates. Optimization of the implants and development of patient-specific designs may help improve the primary fixation stability of PHFs and reduce the rate of mechanical failures. Optimizing the screw orientations in locking plates has shown promising results; however, the potential benefit of subject-specific designs has not been explored yet. The purpose of this study was to evaluate by means of finite element (FE) analyses whether subject-specific optimization of the screw orientations in a fixed-angle locking plate can reduce the predicted cutout failure risk in unstable 3-part fractures.

Methods: FE models of 19 low-density proximal humeri were generated from high-resolution computed tomographic images using a previously developed and validated computational osteosynthesis framework. The specimens were virtually osteotomized to simulate unstable malreduced 3-part fractures and fixed with the PHILOS plates using 6 proximal locking screws. The average principal compressive strain in cylindrical bone regions around the screw tips-a biomechanically validated surrogate for the risk of cyclic screw cutout failure-was defined as the main outcome measure. The angles of the 6 proximal locking screws were optimized via parametric analysis for each humerus individually, resulting in subject-specific screw orientations (SSO). The average peri-implant strains of the SSO were statistically compared with the previously reported cohort-specific (CSO) and original PHILOS screw orientations (PSO) for females vs. males.

Results: The optimized SSO significantly reduced the peri-screw bone strain vs. CSO (6.8% ± 4.0%, P = .006) and PSO (25.24% ± 7.93%, P < .001), indicating lower cutout risk for subject-specific configurations. The benefits of SSO vs. PSO were significantly higher for women than men.

Conclusion: The findings of this study suggest that subject-specific optimization of the locking screw orientations could lead to lower cutout risk and improved PHF fixation. These computer simulation results require biomechanical and clinical corroboration. Further studies are needed to evaluate whether the potential benefit in stability could justify the increased efforts related to implementation of individualized implants. Nevertheless, computational exploration of the biomechanical factors influencing the outcome of fracture fixations could help better understand the fixation failures and reduce their incidence.

Keywords: Proximal humerus fracture; finite element analysis; fixation stability; locking plate; osteoporosis; patient-specific implant.

MeSH terms

  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Bone Plates
  • Computer Simulation
  • Female
  • Fracture Fixation, Internal
  • Humans
  • Humerus
  • Male
  • Shoulder Fractures* / diagnostic imaging
  • Shoulder Fractures* / surgery