The Olecranon Osteotomy: A Six-year Experience in the Treatment of Intraarticular Fractures of the Distal Humerus

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ObjectivesThe transolecranon exposure for distal humerus fractures is a suggested technique for improving articular visualization, allowing accurate reduction. Significant osteotomy complications such as nonunion and implant prominence have prompted recommendations for alternate exposures. The purposes of this study are to present the techniques and complications of the olecranon osteotomy for the management of distal humerus fractures, and to evaluate the adequacy of distal humeral and olecranon articular reductions.DesignRetrospective review.SettingUrban level-1 University trauma center.PatientsOne hundred fourteen skeletally mature AO/OTA type 13-C distal humerus fractures were identified from the orthopedic trauma database and formed the study group.InterventionSeventy fractures (61%), including 42 open injuries, were managed using an intraarticular, chevron-shaped olecranon osteotomy. Osteotomy fixations were performed with an intramedullary screw and supplemental dorsal ulnar wiring, or plate stabilization. In the remaining 44 fractures (39%), soft-tissue mobilizing exposures were performed.Main Outcome MeasurePatient records and radiographs were reviewed to determine injury and operative characteristics, complications, and adequacy of articular reductions. Patient interviews were conducted by telephone to identify any subsequent surgical procedures.ResultsThe proportion of osteotomies performed increased as fracture complexity increased (P<0.001). Sixty-seven of 70 patients had adequate follow-up to determine osteotomy union. All osteotomies united. There was 1 delayed union. Sixty-one of 70 patients had adequate follow-up to determine complications associated with ulnar fixations. Five of these patients (8%) underwent elective removal of symptomatic osteotomy fixations. An additional 13 patients had olecranon implants removed in conjunction with other surgical procedures (11 elbow contracture releases, 1 humeral nonunion repair, and 1 chronic draining sinus excision). Symptomatic ulnar fixations in this group could not be reliably ascertained, but may have been present. A total of 18 of 61 patients (29.5%), therefore, had proximal ulna fixations removed. All patients treated using an olecranon osteotomy exposure demonstrated satisfactory radiographic distal humeral articular reductions. Two osteotomies required early revision osteosynthesis secondary to loss of osteotomy reduction.ConclusionsIn this study, no osteotomy nonunions were encountered in 67 patients, more than half of which were open injuries. Regardless of which type of fixation is used to secure the osteotomy, secure stabilization must be obtained. Isolated symptomatic olecranon fixation requiring removal occurred in approximately 8% of patients. Although not necessary for all fractures of the distal humerus, the olecranon osteotomy can be useful in the visualization of the complex articular injuries, allowing accurate articular reduction.

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