Bone and Joint Institute

Functional outcomes of distal humeral fractures managed nonoperatively in medically unwell and lower-demand elderly patients

Document Type


Publication Date



Journal of Shoulder and Elbow Surgery





First Page


Last Page


URL with Digital Object Identifier



© 2015 Journal of Shoulder and Elbow Surgery Board of Trustees. Background: There is scant contemporary literature describing the outcomes of nonoperative management of distal humeral fractures. The aim of this study was to report the functional and radiographic outcomes after nonoperative management of distal humeral fractures. Methods: Between 2007 and 2013, 32 low-demand, medically unwell, or older patients with distal humeral fractures were treated nonoperatively. At the time of this study, 8 patients had died of unrelated causes, and 5 patients were lost to follow-up. The remaining 19 patients, with a mean age of 77 years, were available for a comprehensive assessment. Results: At a mean of 27 ± 14 months of follow-up, 68% (13 of 19) of patients reported good to excellent subjective outcomes. Outcomes in 2 patients were classified as poor, one of whom underwent total elbow arthroplasty as a result. Overall, the mean score on the Patient Rated Elbow Evaluation was 16 ± 23 and the Mayo Elbow Performance Index was 90 ± 11. When the injured was compared with the uninjured side, extension (22° ± 11° vs 8° ± 12° P = .025) and flexion (128° ± 16° vs 142° ± 7° P = .002) were significantly worse in the injured elbows. The fracture union rate was 81% (22 of 27) at a mean radiographic follow-up of 12 months. Conclusions: Satisfactory outcomes were observed after the nonoperative management of selected distal humeral fractures in lower-demand, medically unwell, or older patients. Fracture union can be expected in most patients. In the uncommon instance when an unsatisfactory outcome occurs, successful salvage can be achieved with conversion to a total elbow arthroplasty.

Find in your library