International Orthopaedics

, Volume 38, Issue 4, pp 847–855 | Cite as

Tension band wiring in olecranon fractures: the myth of technical simplicity and osteosynthetical perfection

  • Marco M. SchneiderEmail author
  • Tobias E. Nowak
  • Leonard Bastian
  • Jan C. Katthagen
  • Jörg Isenberg
  • Pol M. Rommens
  • Lars P. Müller
  • Klaus J. Burkhart
Original Paper



The tension band wiring (TBW) technique is a common treatment for the fixation of olecranon fractures with up to three fragments. The literature and surgeons describe TBW as an uncomplicated, always available and convenient operation producing excellent results. The purpose of this study was to determine whether TBW is more ambitious than believed or the procedure provides an increased level of tolerance concerning the surgical technique.


This study reviewed 239 TBW cases in patients with olecranon fractures or osteotomies. We reviewed a total of 2,252 X-rays for ten operative imperfections: (1) nonparallel K-wires, (2) long K-wires, (3) K-wires extending radially outwards, (4) insufficient fixation of the proximal ends of the K-wires, (5) intramedullary K-wires, (6) perforation of the joint surface, (7) single wire knot, (8) jutting wire knot(s), (9) loose figure-of-eight configuration, and (10) incorrect repositioning.


On average, there were 4.24 imperfections per intervention in the cases reviewed. A total of 1,014 of 2,390 possible imperfections were detected. The most frequent imperfections were insufficient fixation of the proximal ends of the K-wires (91 % of all cases), the use of a single wire knot (78 %) and nonparallel K-wires (72 %). Mayo IIa (n = 188) was the most common fracture type.


Our results and the number of complications described by the literature together support the conclusion that TBW is not as easy as surgeons and the literature suggest. Although bone healing and the functional results of TBW are excellent in most cases, the challenges associated with this operation are underestimated.

Level of Evidence: IV, treatment study


Tension-band wiring TBW Olecranon fractures Imperfections K-wire Radiographs 


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Marco M. Schneider
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Tobias E. Nowak
    • 3
  • Leonard Bastian
    • 4
  • Jan C. Katthagen
    • 5
  • Jörg Isenberg
    • 6
  • Pol M. Rommens
    • 3
  • Lars P. Müller
    • 1
  • Klaus J. Burkhart
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Orthopaedic and Trauma SurgeryUniversity Hospital of Cologne, Albertus Magnus UniversityCologneGermany
  2. 2.Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, Traumatology and Sports MedicineCologne-Merheim Medical Center, University of Witten/HerdeckeCologneGermany
  3. 3.Department of Orthopaedics and TraumatologyUniversity Medical Center, Johannes Gutenberg UniversityMainzGermany
  4. 4.Department of Orthopaedic, Trauma, Hand and Reconstructive SurgeryKlinikum Leverkusen GmbHLeverkusenGermany
  5. 5.Department of Trauma and Reconstructive SurgeryFriederikenstift Hospital HannoverHannoverGermany
  6. 6.Department of Trauma and Orthopaedic SurgeryKRH Klinikum NordstadtHannoverGermany

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