Most patients with a nightstick fracture of the ulna are treated conservatively. Various techniques of immobilisation or early mobilisation have been studied. We performed a systematic review of all published randomised controlled trials and observational studies that have assessed the outcome of these fractures following above- or below-elbow immobilisation, bracing and early mobilisation. We searched multiple electronic databases, related bibliographies and other studies. We included 27 studies comprising 1629 fractures in the final analysis. The data relating to the time to radiological union and the rates of delayed union and nonunion could be pooled and analysed statistically.
We found that early mobilisation produced the shortest radiological time to union (mean 8.0 weeks) and the lowest mean rate of nonunion (0.6%). Fractures treated with above- or below-elbow immobilisation and braces had longer mean radiological times to union (9.2 weeks, 9.2 weeks and 8.7 weeks, respectively) and higher mean rates of nonunion (3.8%, 2.1% and 0.8%, respectively). There was no statistically significant difference in the rate of non- or delayed union between those treated by early mobilisation and the three forms of immobilisation (p = 0.142 to p = 1.000, respectively). All the studies had significant biases, but until a robust randomised controlled trial is undertaken the best advice for the treatment of undisplaced or partially displaced nightstick fractures appears to be early mobilisation, with a removable forearm support for comfort as required.