Soft Tissue Injury Severity is Associated With Neurovascular Injury in Pediatric Supracondylar Humerus Fractures

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Abstract

Background:

Neurovascular injury in pediatric supracondylar fractures (SCHFx) has been associated with fracture classification but not with soft tissue injury. The purpose of this study is to correlate clinical soft tissue damage to neurovascular injuries in SCHFx.

Methods:

This is an institutional review board approved prospective study from January 2010 through December 2013 of 748 operatively treated pediatric SCHFx. Prospective data were gathered both preoperatively and intraoperatively regarding detailed neurovascular examination as well as soft tissue status, with qualitative descriptives for swelling (mild/moderate/severe), ecchymosis, abrasions, skin tenting, and skin puckering.

Results:

A total of 7.8% of patients (41/526) had a nonpalpable radial pulse preoperatively. Compared with those with a palpable pulse, a nonpalpable pulse was associated with severe elbow swelling (P<0.0001), tenting (P=0.0085), puckering (P=0.0011), ecchymoses (P<0.0001), and open fracture (P=0.044). Ten patients had a loss of a palpable pulse from initial orthopaedic consult to time of surgery, and when compared with the patients who did not have a loss of pulse, this was associated with swelling severity (P=0.0001) and ecchymosis (P=0.053). A total of 14% of patients (71/526) had a neurological injury preoperatively, and this was associated with severe elbow swelling (P<0.0001), tenting (P=0.0008), puckering (P=0.0077), and ecchymoses (P<0.0001) when compared with patients who did not have a neurological injury. In total, 17 patients had a decline in their neurological examination from the time of initial orthopaedic consult to the time of surgery, and this was associated with severe elbow swelling (P=0.0054) and ecchymoses (P=0.011). After multivariate logistic regression analysis, severe swelling and ecchymoses were significantly associated with a nonpalpable pulse as well as neurological injury (P<0.05). No patient had compartment syndrome.

Conclusions:

Soft tissue injury, as measured by swelling, ecchymosis, puckering, and tenting, had a clinically significant association with neurovascular compromise in pediatric SCHFx, and assessment of soft tissue injury is as important as the radiographic appearance when examining these patients. The physical examination signs of soft tissue injury may play a factor in determining urgency of surgical treatment in these fractures.

Level of Evidence:

Level II—therapeutic.

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