Supracondylar humerus fractures are common injuries, accounting for more than 30% of all fractures in children younger than 7 years.1 Neurovascular injuries are common and can result from the fracture itself or from an iatrogenic complication from treatment. Associated neurovascular injuries commonly involve the anterior interosseous nerve, brachial artery, median nerve, or radial nerve.2 Complications from fracture or surgery include pin loosening, pin-site infection, Volkmann ischemic contracture, progressive cubitus varus with rotational malalignment, and, most commonly, reduced range of motion.3–5
The timing of definitive treatment of supracondylar humerus fractures has been debated. Some studies have demonstrated an increased risk of morbidity and complications with delayed treatment of supracondylar humerus fractures, specifically an increased need for open reduction.6–12 Open reduction results in the increased morbidity associated with open procedures, such as infection, scar formation, and an increased risk of iatrogenic neurovascular injury.11 Aside from time to treatment, little in the literature addresses other factors that may influence whether open reduction is performed.
The authors’ institition is a rural tertiary referral hospital with Level I trauma status. Subsequently, many supracondylar fractures are transferred from great distances for definitive management, leading to an inherent treatment delay. On review of these injuries, the authors’ open reduction rate was higher than some published standards.6–8,10,11,14,21 The current study examined the authors’ experience with supracondylar humerus fractures over an 11-year period. The hypothesis was that commonalities exist among patients who required open treatment that may be used to predict the need for open treatment in future patients.
Materials and Methods
Institutional review board approval was obtained for this study. The authors reviewed the records of consecutive patients with operatively treated pediatric supracondylar humerus fractures who were admitted between October 1997 and January 2009. The authors’ institution is located in a rural setting and is a referral center for pediatric trauma for a large geographic region. All patients with open growth plates who were treated for a supracondylar humerus fracture during the study period were included. Patients with open fractures were excluded from the study.
Patients were identified by the EPIC medical record system (Epic Systems, Verona, Wisconsin) using the International Classification of Diseases, Ninth Edition code for supracondylar humerus fracture. In addition, patients with a Current Procedural Terminology code for closed or open reduction of supracondylar humerus fracture during the study period were collected. Medical records for those patients were reviewed to confirm correct documentation. A total of 183 patients with operatively treated supracondylar humerus fractures were identified; 9 of these patients were excluded from the study because they had open fractures, leaving a final study population of 174 patients.
The medical records were reviewed, and data collected for each patient included demographic variables; mechanism of injury (high energy, fall from a height or bike; low energy, fall from standing); transfer from another hospital; open vs closed reduction and pin fixation; Wilkins modification of the Gartland fracture classification; flexion vs extension displacement; time of injury; time of presentation to the emergency department; time of surgery; presence of associated injuries, including nerve injury or palsy, ipsilateral upper extremity fractures, and vascular injury; attending specialty on call at time of patient arrival; and attending specialty that performed the operation.
Calculated data included time from injury to presentation to the emergency department, time from injury to surgery, and time from presentation to surgery. The main outcome variable was the need for open reduction. In the 119 patients with presentation radiographs, the direction and maximum displacement of the distal fracture fragment was evaluated and calculated in millimeters. This number was then normalized by dividing the maximum displacement in millimeters by the width of the humerus just proximal to the fracture site.
Indications for open reduction included a fracture irreducible by closed reduction, vascular compromise not improved with closed reduction, and nonacceptable reduction. A nonacceptable reduction was defined as excessive rotational or translational malalignment. Greater angular malalignment was accepted because this has a greater potential for correction through remodeling. Rotational malalignment was defined on a lateral radiograph when a 2- to 3-mm difference existed in the width of the bone at the fracture site between the proximal and distal fragments (Figure 1). Translational malalignment was defined on a lateral radiograph when less than 50% cortical contact existed between the proximal and distal fragments (Figure 2).
Figure 1: Lateral radiograph showing rotational malalignment.
Figure 2: Lateral radiograph showing translational malalignment.
Distributions of data were checked. Percentages were used for categorical data, and means or medians were used for continuous data (depending on distribution). The open reduction group was compared with closed reduction patients on collected variables. Categorical variables were tested using chi-square tests and continuous variables using t or Wilcoxon rank sum tests (depending on distribution). To determine whether factors were independently associated with risk of open reduction, a multivariate logistic model was fit predicting open reduction status. All variables were included as possible predictors; a final model was found using stepwise elimination. Final modeling results are reported with odds ratios (OR) and 95% confidence intervals (CIs). All analyses were performed using SAS version 9 software (SAS Institute Inc, Cary, North Carolina), and a P value less than .05 was considered statistically significant.
A total of 174 patients met the inclusion criteria. Of these, 149 (85.6%) were transferred to the authors’ institution from another hospital (Table). Thirty-one (13.2%) patients had type II fractures and 140 had type III fractures. Twenty-three patients required open reduction. One hundred thirty-three (76.4%) patients presented between 5 pm and 7 am. The breakdown of attending specialty on call and specialty of the attending performing the surgery is presented in the Table.
Table: Patient Characteristics
Of the 23 patients undergoing open reduction and fixation, 39.1% had an associated injury, whereas 14.6% of the patients undergoing closed reduction and percutaneous pinning had an associated injury; this difference was statistically significant (P=.008). In the open reduction group, associated injuries included 4 anterior interosseous nerve palsies, 2 ipsilateral distal radius fractures, 2 pulseless hands, and 1 radial nerve palsy (Table).
Initial displacement was a significant risk factor for open reduction (P=.03). When the displacement was normalized by cortical width, the open reduction group had a greater mean displacement, although the difference was no longer significant (Table). Eighty-seven percent of the patients undergoing open reduction had a high-energy injury mechanism compared with 68.7% of the closed reduction group (P=.08). Time from injury to surgery was not significantly different between the open and closed reduction groups (P=.91). Average time from injury to presentation was 8.1 hours in the open reduction group and 6.5 hours in the closed reduction group (P=.15). The average time from presentation to the emergency department to surgery was 4.1 hours in the open reduction group and 6.3 hours in the closed reduction group (P=.049) (Table).
Results from the logistic modeling showed that none of the following were significantly related to predicting the risk of open reduction: presentation type (direct to the authors’ institution or transfer from another hospital), time of presentation (7 am–5 pm vs 5 pm–7 am), attending specialty on admission, surgeon specialty, and time from injury to surgery. The significant factors in the logistic modeling were presence of an associated injury (OR=3.3 [95% CI, 1.4–7.7]; P=.008), Gartland classification (P=.023), and time from presentation to surgery (P=.049). Patients with an associated injury had significantly higher (3×) odds of having an open reduction than those with no associated injury.
Although several authors have advocated early reduction and pinning of pediatric supracondylar humerus fractures,3,6–8,12,13 other studies have reported no increased benefit of early reduction and pinning.7–11 Proponents of early treatment claim less of a need to convert to open reduction for these fractures. The current study describes the experience at a rural tertiary referral center, using a multivariate logistic model to determine which factors were independently associated with an increased incidence of treating these fractures with open reduction.
The incidence of open reduction varies in the literature from 0.6% to 46%. 6–8,10,11,14–21 The current rate (13.2%) is consistent with previous reports.6–8,10,11,14,21 When the mechanism of injury was evaluated in the current patients, the high-energy injury rate was consistent with previous reports of supracondylar humerus etiology.16 Indications for open reduction included a fracture irreducible by closed reduction, vascular compromise not improved with closed reduction, and non-acceptable reduction.22 Standardization of indications of when to transition from closed to open reduction attempts to eliminate surgeon preference or comfort from biasing rates of open reduction and allows the regression analysis to determine other variables that predict closed reduction failure. As a tertiary referral center, the current authors’ instution sees various injuries that present with a multitude of patient variables. This allowed them to perform a statistical analysis on a large cohort to determine factors affecting the open reduction rate of pediatric supracondylar humerus fractures.
The variables that significantly and independently influenced the need for open reduction in the current study were the presence of an associated injury (39.1% vs 14.6%, respectively; P=.008), Gartland type III fracture (P=.023), maximum initial fracture displacement (P=.03), and time from presentation to surgery (P=.049). The most common coexisting injuries were anterior interosseous nerve palsy and an ipsilateral forearm fracture. An associated injury increased the open reduction rate to 3 times greater than that for patients without associated injury. The presence of an associated injury or greater initial fracture displacement implies a higher-energy injury. This suggests that these children should be transferred to a hospital that can accommodate their total care. In addition, if an associated injury or a large degree of initial fracture displacement is present, the possibility of open reduction should be emphasized during preoperative planning for these fractures. The lack of fracture displacement in patients who have a Gartland II supracondylar humerus fracture with an associated injury may explain why they did not require open reduction. Although the need to convert to open treatment is a possibility for any surgically treated supracondylar humerus fracture, the treating surgeon should be aware of the increased likelihood in patients with associated injuries or a large degree of initial fracture displacement.
Similar to the findings of Farnsworth et al,16 the majority (72.7%) of the current patients presented between 5 pm and 7 am. The presentation time had no statistically significant effect on the need for open reduction. Similarly, the time from injury to surgery and injury to presentation had no statistically significant effect on the need for open reduction. This is consistent with the findings of Leet et al,8 who reported no increased incidence of complications (including open treatment) with a longer time from injury to surgery. However, the current authors found a statistically significant increase in the need for open reduction and pinning in the time from presentation to surgery. This decreased time was related to expedited care after patients presented due to their trauma level. The clinical significance is that in patients with greater trauma, such as Gartland type III fractures with associated injuries, for whom definitive treatment is expected to take place at another institution, early and expedient transfer should be arranged.
Limitations of the current study include the study design in which injury and results data were obtained retrospectively; therefore, the final numbers depended on the accuracy of documentation. Second, the study patients were identified using International Classifcation of Diseases, Ninth Edition and Current Procedural Terminology codes. However, this method of identifying patients excluded all patients with pediatric supracondylar humerus fractures that were coded incorrectly. Third, initial presentation radiographs were not always available for analysis because the hard copy radiographs had been lost or destroyed. Finally, a selection bias was likely present because patients with more difficult fracture patterns would have been sent to pediatric-trained orthopedic surgeons if available.
Gartland type III supracondylar distal humerus fractures, the presence of associated injury, and greater initial fracture displacement were significant risk factors for the need for open reduction. Treating surgeons should be aware of this increased incidence and be prepared to treat these injuries accordingly. In addition, consideration should be given to the early and expedient transfer of patients with Gartland type III supracondylar humerus fractures with associated injury or significant initial fracture displacement when definitive care will be provided at another institution.
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|Characteristic||Open Reduction (n=23)||Closed Reduction (n=151)||P|
|Mean age at injury, y||5.7±2.8||5.3±2.4||.38|
|Extension injury, %||95.6||96.5||.85|
|Associated injuries, %||39.1||14.6||.008a|
|Transferred to current authors, %||95.6||80.4||.083|
|7 am–5 pm presentation time, %||34.8||25.2||.33|
|Gartland classification, %||.023a|
| Type I||0||2.1|
| Type II||0||20.7|
| Type III||100||77.1|
|Attending specialty, %||.55|
|Surgeon specialty, %||.22|
|Median time (IQR), h|
| Injury to presentation||8.1 (7.0, 14.9)||6.5 (4.0, 17.5)||.15|
| Injury to surgery||15.5 (11.4, 19.0)||14.7 (9.1, 24.4)||.91|
| Presentation to surgery||4.1 (1.5, 6.9)||6.3 (2.9, 14.8)||.049a|
|High-energy fractures,b %||87.0||68.7||.08|
|Mean maximum displacement,c mm||17.5±10.7||11.6±8.0||.03a|
|Mean maximum displacement,c normalized by cortex width, mm/mm||0.75±0.58||0.61±0.43||.35|
|Direction of displacement,c %||.15|