Fracture Site Mobility at 6 Weeks After Humeral Shaft Fracture Predicts Nonunion Without Surgery

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Abstract

Objectives:

To assess the presence of fracture site gross motion on physical examination to predict humeral shaft fracture progression to nonunion in patients managed nonoperatively.

Design:

Retrospective cohort study.

Setting:

Single trauma level 1 institutional center.

Patients:

Eighty-four consecutive patients undergoing nonoperative treatment of a diaphyseal humeral shaft fracture were identified. The average age of the population was 48.3 years, and 50% of the cohort was men.

Intervention:

Clinical examination for fracture stability was routinely performed on patients by the treating physicians and documented it in the medical record. Patients were followed until union or surgery for persistent fracture mobility.

Main Outcome Measurements:

Stability was graded if there was motion at the site (1: motion of any kind and 0: moved as a unit).

Results:

Seventy-three patients (87%) healed their fracture within our study cohort by 6 months postfracture. Of the remaining 11 patients, after discussion with their treating physicians about the option of surgical intervention, 8 chose to undergo open reduction internal fixation at an average of 8 months, 1 proceeded nonsurgical interventions, and 2 were lost of follow-up. If the humeral shaft fracture site was mobile at 6 weeks follow-up visit, it identified future fracture nonunion with 82% sensitivity and 99% specificity (only 1 patient with motion at 6 weeks proceeded to fracture union).

Conclusion:

With a high negative predictive value, clinical examination of fracture motion at 6 weeks should be assessed in every patient to determine which patients should obtain closer follow-up for the risk of nonunion progression. Knowledge of gross fracture motion can be used in the shared decision-making model in counseling about early surgical options.

Level of Evidence:

Diagnostic Level III. See Instructions for Authors for a complete description of levels of evidence.

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