Functional outcome following elbow release and hardware removal after bicolumnar fixation of distal humeral fractures
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© 2020 Introduction: Intra-articular fractures of the distal humerus are typically treated with bicolumnar plate fixation. Despite prompt and accurate reduction and fixation, there is a high rate of complications post-surgical fixation. The purpose of this study was to determine the indications, technique, and outcomes of patients who had undergone an elbow release and hardware removal following bicolumnar plate fixation for an intra-articular fracture of the distal humerus. Methods: Patients who had undergone an elbow release and hardware removal by a single surgeon following bicolumnar fixation of an intra-articular fracture of the distal humerus were identified. Patients were contacted to participate in a chart review and to return to clinic for a follow-up visit. Patients who returned for a follow-up visit completed the DASH (Disabilities of the Arm, Shoulder and Hand), the MEPS (Mayo Elbow Performance Score), and the SF-36. Results: Forty-two patients were included in the final analysis. The average time from the original injury to the elbow release procedure was 17.5 months. There was an improvement of 33° in the mean flexion-extension arc following the procedure (p<0.001). The mean DASH score was 21 (SD=19) and the mean MEPS score was 82 (SD=16). There was a high rate of post-traumatic osteoarthritis (n=30). Two patients underwent a total elbow arthroplasty (TEA). One patient sustained a re-fracture of the distal humerus, and subsequently underwent repeat bicolumnar fixation. There were four reoperations (10%): two patients had a revision release of contracture and two patients underwent a closed manipulation. Conclusions: It appears safe to remove both plates and to re-intervene relatively early. There is a modest but consistent improvement in flexion-extension arc, and the re-operation rate is low. Although there is a high rate of post-traumatic arthritic change radiographically, TEA was rare, and elbow-based outcome scores were good, although not normal.