Archives of Orthopaedic and Trauma Surgery

, Volume 134, Issue 6, pp 803–811 | Cite as

Comparing approaches to expose type C fractures of the distal humerus for ORIF in elderly patients: six years clinical experience with both the triceps-sparing approach and olecranon osteotomy

  • Chi Zhang
  • Biao ZhongEmail author
  • Cong-feng Luo
Trauma Surgery



Although open reduction and internal fixation (ORIF) is a standard fracture treatment method, the optimal way to expose a fracture prior to ORIF is debated. We compared the effects of two exposure methods, the triceps-sparing approach and olecranon osteotomy, on the functional outcomes of ORIF-treated type C distal humerus fractures in elderly people.


From January 2006 to January 2011, 75 elderly patients with type C distal humerus fractures were treated with ORIF, and we retrospectively reviewed their medical records, radiographs, and follow-up charts to identify any complications. Patients’ Mayo Elbow Performance Score (MEPS) and range of motion were determined at their final clinic visit.


Sixty-seven patients (89 %) attended the final visit. Of these patients, 36 received olecranon osteotomy and 31 received the triceps-sparing approach. For patients with type C1 and C2 fractures, we observed reductions in procedure times, blood loss, complication rates, and MEPS outcomes (all P < 0.01) with the triceps-sparing approach compared with olecranon osteotomy. Except for MEPS outcomes, all of these approach-related improvements were also statistically significantly for type C3 fractures (all P < 0.01). Overall, we did not observe any cases of fracture nonunion, implantation breakage or loosening, or elbow stiffening in our series.


In our study, we found better functional outcomes for type C1 and C2 distal humerus fractures that were exposed using the triceps-sparing approach rather than olecranon osteotomy. Even for the most complex type of fracture, C3 fractures, similar recoveries in elbow function were achieved using either approach.

Level of evidence

Level III.


Distal humerus fracture Open reduction and internal fixation (ORIF) Surgical approach Olecranon osteotomy Triceps-sparing approach 


Conflict of interest

None declared.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Orthopaedic DepartmentShanghai Jiaotong University Affiliated No 6th People’s HospitalShanghaiPeople’s Republic of China

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