The three most common elbow fractures classically reported in pediatric orthopedic literature are supracondylar (50–70%), lateral condylar (17–34%), and medial epicondylar fractures (10%), with fractures of the proximal radius (including but not limited to fractures of the radial neck) being relatively uncommon (5–10%). Our experience at a large children’s hospital suggests a different distribution.
Our goals were (1) to ascertain the frequency of different elbow fracture types in a large pediatric population, and (2) to determine which fracture types were occult on initial radiographs but detected on follow-up.
Materials and methods
Review of medical records identified 462 children, median age 6 years and interquartile range for age of 4–8 years (range 0.8–18 years), who were diagnosed with elbow fractures at our institution over a 10-month period. Initial and follow-up radiographs were reviewed in blinded fashion independently by two experienced pediatric musculoskeletal radiologists to identify fracture types on initial and follow-up radiographs.
The most common fractures included supracondylar (n = 258, 56%), radial neck (n = 80, 17%), and lateral condylar (n = 69, 15%). Additional fractures were seen on follow-up exams in 32 children. Of these, 25 had a different fracture type than was identified on initial radiographs. The most common follow-up fractures were olecranon (n = 23, 72%), coronoid process (n = 4, 13%) and supracondylar (n = 3, 9%). Olecranon fractures were significantly more common on follow-up radiographs than they were on initial radiographs (n = 33, 7%; P < .0001). Twenty-six children had more than one fracture type on the initial radiograph. The most common fracture combinations were radial neck with olecranon (n = 9) and supracondylar with lateral condylar (n = 9).
Supracondylar fractures are the most frequent elbow fracture seen initially, followed by radial neck, lateral condylar, and olecranon fractures in a distribution different from what has been historically described. The relatively high frequency of olecranon fractures detected on follow-up speaks to their potentially occult nature. Careful attention to these areas is warranted in children with initially normal radiographs.