Effect of coronal shear fractures of the distal humerus on elbow kinematics and stability
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BACKGROUND: Coronal shear fractures of the distal humerus can include some or all of the cartilaginous and bony surface. Fixation is preferred, but severe comminution, nonunion, and avascular necrosis may mandate excision. The amount of distal humerus that is safe to excise is unknown. This study examined the effect of excision of the capitellum and trochlea on elbow kinematics and stability with intact collateral ligaments. METHODS: Eight cadaveric arms were mounted in an upper extremity joint testing system. Electromagnetic receivers on the radius and ulna enabled quantification of ulnohumeral and radiocapitellar kinematics. The distal humeral articular surface was sequentially excised to replicate clinically relevant coronal shear fractures, leaving the collateral ligaments undisturbed. The arms underwent simulated active flexion in vertical and valgus-loaded positions, and passive forearm rotation in the vertical position. RESULTS: In the vertical position, sequential excision of the articular surface increased valgus angulation during active flexion (P < or = .04), and excision of the entire articular surface increased ulnar external rotation compared to the intact elbow (P < or = .02). In the valgus position, excisions involving the trochlea increased valgus angulation for active flexion (P < or = .04). The radial head moved distal, posterior, and medial on the capitellum with some or all of the trochlea excised (P < or = .02). DISCUSSION: While the capitellum alone does not contribute to elbow stability, the trochlea has an important role. Excision of the trochlea resulted in multiplanar instability of the ulnohumeral and radiocapitellar joints. Therefore, excision of an irreparable capitellum fracture may be considered if collateral ligaments are intact, while excision of some or all of the trochlea may not.
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