Osteoporosis International

, Volume 16, Supplement 2, pp S73–S79 | Cite as

Distal humerus fractures in elderly patients: results after open reduction and internal fixation

  • Jan KornerEmail author
  • Helmut Lill
  • Lars Peter Müller
  • Martin Hessmann
  • Klaus Kopf
  • Jörg Goldhahn
  • Oliver Gonschorek
  • Christoph Josten
  • Pol Maria Rommens
Original Article


Problem: Fractures of the distal humerus are difficult to treat. In elderly patients, diminished bone mineral quality and increased trauma-associated joint destruction may make stable joint reconstruction even more problematic. Furthermore, comorbidities and poor tolerance of joint immobilization might be additional factors which influence elbow function negatively. Until now, disagreement has existed on how to treat these fractures in elderly patients. Recommendations range from conservative treatment to primary total elbow replacement. So far, reports in the literature on whether or not open reduction and internal fixation in these patients is justified are very rare. Aim of the study: To analyze fracture patterns, surgical approach, complications, and functional results after open reduction and internal fixation in patients of age 60 years and older. Patients and methods: Retrospective clinical study of two university level 1 trauma centers, including 45 patients (median age 73 years; range, 61–92 years) with surgically treated distal humerus fractures. Fracture patterns were recorded according to their AO classification. All patients were treated by open reduction and internal fixation. A clinical and radiological follow-up was obtained after a minimum of 24 months following surgery (median 87 months; range, 24–121 months). Functional results were evaluated according to the Mayo Elbow Score. Results: Fractures with complete joint involvement were seen most often. Taking the fracture type into consideration, functional results deteriorated with degree of joint involvement. Postoperative complication rate was high, predominantly seen as screw loosening and/or implant failure at the lateral column. Neverthless, functional results were preponderating good or excellent. Factors negatively influencing outcome were joint immobilization longer than 14 days and severe joint involvement. Discussion: In elderly patients, distal humerus fractures, which are often considered “osteoporotic fractures,” still remain one of the most demanding challenges in trauma surgery. The present study demonstrates that despite diminished bone quality and a high complication rate, open reduction and internal fixation in elderly patients is justified. Conclusion: Open reduction and internal fixation of distal humerus fractures in elderly patients should be the main goal, since good elbow function can be achieved in the majority of patients. Elbow immobilization longer than 14 days should be avoided. Stable implant anchorage at the lateral column remains problematic, reflecting a general potential for further implant improvements.


Distal humerus Elderly patients Fractures Internal fixation 


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Copyright information

© International Osteoporosis Foundation and National Osteoporosis Foundation 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jan Korner
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
    Email author
  • Helmut Lill
    • 2
  • Lars Peter Müller
    • 1
  • Martin Hessmann
    • 1
  • Klaus Kopf
    • 1
  • Jörg Goldhahn
    • 3
  • Oliver Gonschorek
    • 2
  • Christoph Josten
    • 2
  • Pol Maria Rommens
    • 1
  1. 1.Department for Trauma SurgeryJohannes Gutenberg-University MainzMainzGermany
  2. 2.Department of Trauma and Reconstructive SurgeryUniversity of LeipzigLeipzigGermany
  3. 3.AO Research InstituteDavosSwitzerland

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