A Removable Long-arm Soft Cast to Treat Nondisplaced Pediatric Elbow Fractures: A Randomized, Controlled Trial


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Abstract

Background:The ideal type of immobilization for nondisplaced pediatric elbow fractures has not been established. We hypothesized that the use of a long-arm cylinder made of soft cast material will result in similar outcomes to those obtained with a traditional long-arm hard cast.Methods:We randomly assigned 100 consecutive children who presented with a closed, nondisplaced, type I supracondylar humeral fracture or an occult, closed, acute elbow injury, to 1 of 2 groups: group A (n=50) received a long-arm, traditional fiberglass (hard) cast. Group B (n=50) received a long-arm, soft fiberglass cast. After 4 weeks, the cast was removed in group A by a member of our staff using a cast saw, and in group B by one of the patient’s parents by rolling back the soft fiberglass material. We compared the amount of fracture displacement and/or angulation, recovery of range of motion, elbow pain, and patient satisfaction.Results:There were no instances of unplanned removal of the cast by the patient or parent. No evidence of fracture displacement or angulation was seen in either group. The final carrying angle of the affected elbow was nearly identical of that of the normal, contralateral elbow in both groups (P=0.64). At the latest follow-up appointment, elbows in groups A and B had a similar mean arc of motion (156 vs. 154 degrees; P=0.45), and had achieved identical relative arc of motion of 99.6% and 99.5% of that of the normal, contralateral side, respectively (P=0.94). Main pain scores were low and comparable over the study period. All patients in both groups reported the highest rate of satisfaction at the eighth week of follow-up.Conclusions:The results indicate that children with nondisplaced supracondylar humeral fractures can be successfully managed with the use of a removable long-arm soft cast, maintaining fracture alignment and resulting in comparable rates of range of motion, pain, and patient satisfaction. The use of a removable immobilization that can reliably maintain fracture alignment and result in similar outcomes, while minimizing the risk of noncompliance, could be advantageous. Although we elected to remove the soft cast during a scheduled follow-up, it appears that such immobilization could be removed easily and safely at home, potentially resulting in a lower number of patient visits, decreased health care costs, and higher patient/parent satisfaction.Level of Evidence:Level I.

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