Long-term Outcome of Displaced, Transverse, Noncomminuted Olecranon Fractures

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Abstract

Background

Operative treatment of a displaced, transverse, noncomminuted fracture of the olecranon is associated with good to excellent elbow function in retrospective short-term followup studies. However, to our knowledge, no studies have evaluated objective and subjective outcomes using standardized outcome instruments (ie, DASH and Mayo Elbow Performance Index [MEPI]) to quantify long-term outcome of these specific fractures.

Questions/purposes

We evaluated (1) factors associated with disability, as measured with the DASH questionnaire; (2) factors associated with ulnohumeral motion; (3) factors associated with pain intensity; and (4) general descriptive findings for posttraumatic arthrosis, MEPI, ulnar neuropathy symptoms, and return to work between 10 and 32 years after open reduction and internal fixation (ORIF) of a transverse, noncomminuted fracture of the olecranon.

Methods

Between 1977 and 1997, we performed ORIFs of transverse, noncomminuted olecranon fractures in 109 patients, of whom 35 had died, 14 had incomplete data in our registry, and 19 were lost to followup or declined participation, leaving 41 patients available for followup at a minimum of 10 years after surgery. During that time, our general indication for performing ORIF was greater than 2 mm displacement. The average age of these patients at the time of injury was 35 years (range, 18-73 years). Patient-reported outcome was quantified using the DASH questionnaire, and physician-based outcome was evaluated using the MEPI. To identify factors associated with disability (DASH), impairment (MEPI), ulnohumeral motion, and pain, we examined demographic and clinical data in bivariate analyses, and subsequently significant factors in multivariate analysis to identify independent predictors of outcome.

Results

The sole factor associated with higher DASH scores in multivariable analysis was age at surgery, explaining 20% of the variability, with younger patients performing better. The mean arc of elbow flexion was 142° (range, 110°-160°), and the variation was associated with arthrosis alone (ie, a greater arc of motion was associated with a lesser grade of arthrosis according to the system of Broberg and Morrey). Pain was uncommon and generally was correlated with adverse events.

Conclusions

The good results of operative fixation (tension-band wiring) of a transverse, displaced olecranon fracture are durable with time. Patient-reported outcomes are excellent in the majority of patients. Residual patient-rated disability does not correlate with arthrosis or loss of extension.

Level of Evidence

Level IV, therapeutic study. See the Guidelines for Authors for a complete description of levels of evidence.

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