Operative Treatment of Supracondylar Fractures of the Humerus in Children: The Consequences of Pin Placement

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Background:The commonly accepted treatment of displaced supracondylar fractures of the humerus in children is fracture reduction and percutaneous pin fixation; however, there is controversy about the optimal placement of the pins. A crossed-pin configuration is believed to be mechanically more stable than lateral pins alone; however, the ulnar nerve can be injured with the use of a medial pin. It has not been proved that the added stability of a medial pin is clinically necessary since, in young children, pin fixation is always augmented with immobilization in a splint or cast.Methods:We retrospectively reviewed the results of reduction and Kirschner wire fixation of 345 extension-type supracondylar fractures in children. Maintenance of fracture reduction and evidence of ulnar nerve injury were evaluated in relation to pin configuration and fracture pattern. Of 141 children who had a Gartland type-2 fracture (a partially intact posterior cortex), seventy-four were treated with lateral pins only and sixty-seven were treated with crossed pins. Of 204 children who had a Gartland type-3 (unstable) fracture, fifty-one were treated with lateral pins only and 153 were treated with crossed pins.Results:There was no difference with regard to maintenance of fracture reduction, as seen on anteroposterior and lateral radiographs, between the crossed pins and the lateral pins. The configuration of the pins did not affect the maintenance of reduction of either the Gartland type-2 fractures or the Gartland type-3 fractures. Ulnar nerve injury was not seen in the 125 patients in whom only lateral pins were used. The use of a medial pin was associated with ulnar nerve injury in 4% (six) of 149 patients in whom the pin was applied without hyperflexion of the elbow and in 15% (eleven) of seventy-one in whom the medial pin was applied with the elbow hyperflexed. Two years after the pinning, one of the seventeen children with ulnar nerve injury had persistent motor weakness and a sensory deficit.Conclusions:Fixation with only lateral pins is safe and effective for both Gartland type-2 and Gartland type-3 (unstable) supracondylar fractures of the humerus in children. The use of only lateral pins prevents iatrogenic injury to the ulnar nerve. On the basis of our findings, we do not recommend the routine use of crossed pins in the treatment of supracondylar fractures of the humerus in children. If a medial pin is used, the elbow should not be hyperflexed during its insertion.

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