Mechanical Distraction for the Treatment of Posttraumatic Stiffness of the Elbow in Children and Adolescents

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Abstract

Background: Elbow contracture is a recognized sequela of elbow injuries in children and adolescents, but previous studies of operative treatment with formal capsular release have demonstrated unpredictable outcomes and unfavorable results.

Methods: Over a period of five years, fourteen children and adolescents with a mean age of fourteen years who had posttraumatic stiffness of the elbow were managed according to a prospective protocol. Eleven patients had undergone a mean of three previous operative procedures before the index operation. After intraoperative distraction with an external fixator, there was a relaxation phase for six days followed by mobilization of the elbow joint under distraction in the fixator for a mean of seven weeks. Intraoperative range of motion under distraction reached a mean of 100°. Open arthrolysis was not performed, but in four children impinging heterotopic bone was removed through a limited approach. Decompression of the ulnar nerve was performed in seven patients.

Results: The mean preoperative arc of total elbow motion was 37°. The mean pronation was 46°, and the mean supination was 56°. After a mean duration of follow-up of thirty-four months, all patients but two had achieved a functional arc of motion of 100°. The mean arc of flexion-extension was 108° (range, 75° to 130°). The mean range of pronation was 73° (range, 20° to 90°), and the mean range of supination was 75° (range, 10° to 90°). There were no pin-track infections or deep infections, and all elbows were stable. At the time of follow-up, three patients had radiographic evidence of humeroulnar degeneration.

Conclusions: Closed distraction of the elbow joint with use of a monolateral external fixation frame with motion capacity yields more favorable results than other previously reported options for the treatment of posttraumatic elbow contractures in children and adolescents.

Level of Evidence: Therapeutic Level IV. See Instructions to Authors for a complete description of levels of evidence.

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