Operative Treatment of Malunion of a Fracture of the Proximal Aspect of the Humerus*

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Abstract

We retrospectively reviewed the medical records, operative reports, and preoperative and postoperative radiographs of thirty-nine patients who had been managed operatively for malunion of a fracture of the proximal aspect of the humerus. The malunions were categorized according to the presence of osseous abnormalities, including malposition of the greater or lesser tuberosity (type I; twenty-eight patients), incongruity of the articular surface (type II; twenty-six patients), and malalignment of the articular segment (type III; sixteen patients). Soft-tissue abnormalities, such as soft-tissue contracture, a tear of the rotator cuff, and impingement, were also recorded. At an average of forty-four months (range, twelve to fifty-three months) postoperatively, the patients were assessed for pain relief, the range of motion of the shoulder, and the ability to perform activities of daily living.The result was satisfactory for twenty-seven patients (69 per cent) and unsatisfactory for the remaining twelve (31 per cent) at the latest follow-up evaluation. Of the twenty-seven patients who had a satisfactory result, twenty-six (96 per cent) had had complete operative correction of all osseous and soft-tissue abnormalities. Of the twelve patients who had an unsatisfactory result, four had had complete operative correction of these abnormalities (p < 0.0001).Twenty-six patients (67 per cent) had incongruity of the glenohumeral joint at the time of presentation. Twenty-three of these patients had the incongruity corrected with prosthetic arthroplasty (twenty-two) or arthrodesis of the glenohumeral joint (one); the result was satisfactory for seventeen (74 per cent). In contrast, the result was unsatisfactory for all three patients in whom the incongruity had not been corrected at the time of the operation (p = 0.01).Eleven patients had malposition of the greater or lesser tuberosity but a congruent joint surface preoperatively. Ten patients in this group were managed with either osteotomy of the tuberosity or acromioplasty, and nine of them had a satisfactory result at the latest follow-up evaluation. The result was unsatisfactory for one patient who was managed with only correction of a soft-tissue contracture (that is, no treatment of the malposition) (p = 0.05).Both osseous and soft-tissue abnormalities were identified as the cause of pain and stiffness in patients who had malunion of a fracture of the proximal aspect of the humerus. We concluded that operative management of these patients is successful only if all osseous and soft-tissue abnormalities are corrected at the time of the operation.

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