Plate Versus Tension-Band Wire Fixation for Olecranon Fractures: A Prospective Randomized Trial

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Abstract

Background:

The aim of this single-center, single-blinded, prospective randomized trial was to compare the outcomes of tension-band wire (TBW) and plate fixation for simple isolated, displaced fractures of the olecranon.

Methods:

We performed a prospective randomized trial involving 67 patients who were ≥16 to <75 years of age and had an acute isolated, displaced fracture of the olecranon. Patients were randomized to either TBW (n = 34) or plate fixation (n = 33) and were evaluated at 6 weeks, 3 months, 6 months, and 1 year following surgery. The primary outcome measure was the Disabilities of the Arm, Shoulder and Hand (DASH) score at 1 year.

Results:

The baseline demographic and fracture characteristics of the 2 groups were comparable, except for age, which was lower in the TBW group. The 1-year follow-up rate was 85% (n = 57), with 84% (n = 56) completing the DASH. There was a significant improvement in the DASH score over the 1-year period following surgery (p < 0.001). At 1 year, the DASH score for the TBW group (12.8) did not differ significantly from that of the plate group (8.5) (p = 0.315). The groups also did not differ significantly in terms of range of motion, the Broberg and Morrey score, the Mayo Elbow Score, or the DASH at all assessment points over the 1 year (all p ≥ 0.05). Complication rates were significantly higher in the TBW group (63% compared with 38%; p = 0.042), predominantly because of a significantly higher rate of metalwork removal in symptomatic patients (50.0% compared with 22%; p = 0.021). Four infections occurred, all in the plate group (0% versus 13%; p = 0.114), as did 3 revision surgeries (0% versus 9.4%; p = 0.238).

Conclusions:

Among active patients with a simple isolated, displaced fracture of the olecranon, no difference was found between TBW and plate fixation in the patient-reported outcome at 1 year following surgery. The complication rate was higher following TBW fixation and was due to a higher rate of implant removal in symptomatic patients. However, the more serious complications of infection and the need for revision surgery occurred exclusively following plate fixation in this trial.

Level of Evidence:

Therapeutic Level I. See Instructions for Authors for a complete description of levels of evidence.

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