Surgical Treatment of Distal Biceps Tendon Ruptures: An Analysis of Complications in 784 Surgical Repairs

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Abstract

Background:

Distal biceps brachii tendon ruptures lead to substantial deficits in elbow flexion and supination; surgical repair restores muscle strength and endurance.

Purpose:

To examine clinical and surgical outcomes for distal biceps tendon repairs in a large, multispecialty, integrated health care system.

Study Design:

Cohort study; Level of evidence, 3.

Methods:

Retrospective cohort study of distal biceps tendon repairs performed between January 1, 2008, and December 31, 2015. The repair methods were classified as double-incision approach using bone tunnel–suture fixation or anterior single-incision approach. Anterior single incisions were further classified according to the fixation method: cortical button alone, cortical button and interference screw, or suture anchors alone. Patient demographics, surgeon characteristics, range of motion, and complications were analyzed for all repair types.

Results:

Of the 784 repairs that met the inclusion criteria, 639 (81.5%) were single-incision approaches. When comparing double-incision and single-incision repairs, there was a significantly higher rate of posterior interosseous nerve palsy (3.4% vs 0.8%, P = .010), heterotopic bone formation (7.6% vs 2.7%, P = .004), and reoperation (8.3% vs 2.3%, P < .001). The most common nerve complication encountered was a lateral antebrachial cutaneous nerve palsy (n = 162), which was significantly more common in the single-incision repairs than in the double-incision repairs (24.4% vs 4.1%, P < .001). When excluding lateral antebrachial cutaneous nerve palsies, there was no significant difference in the overall nerve palsies between single-incision and double-incision (5.8% vs 6.9%, P = .612). The overall rate of tendon rerupture was 1.9% (single incision, 1.6%; double incision, 2.8%; P = .327). The overall rate of postoperative wound infection was 1.5% (single incision, 1.3%; double incision, 2.8%; P = .182). The average time from surgery to release from medical care was 14.4 weeks (single incision, 14 weeks; double incision, 16 weeks; P = .286). Patients treated with cortical button plus interference screw were released significantly sooner than were patients with other single-incision repair types (13.1 ± 8.01 weeks, P = .011). There were no significant differences in rates of motor neurapraxia, infection, rerupture, and reoperation with regard to surgeon’s years of practice, fellowship training, or case volume.

Conclusion:

The surgical repair of distal biceps tendon ruptures has an overall low rate of serious complications, regardless of approach or technique. However, the double-incision technique has a higher rate of posterior interosseous nerve palsy, heterotopic bone formation, and reoperation rate. Surgeon’s years of practice, fellowship training, and case volume do not affect the rate of major complications.

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