Background: Recent work has established that apparently isolated fractures of the capitellum are often more complex and involve the lateral epicondyle, trochlea, and posterior aspect of the distal part of the humerus. We assessed the experience with operative stabilization of fractures of the capitellum and trochlea at one level-I trauma center over a twenty-eight-year period.
Methods: Thirty classifiable partial articular fractures involving the capitellum and trochlea were included in the study. Twenty-seven patients were followed for a minimum of twelve months, and fourteen patients returned for long-term follow-up at a median of seventeen years. The early and long-term results were evaluated according to the Broberg and Morrey Functional Rating Index. The long-term results were also evaluated according to the Mayo Elbow Performance Index (MEPI), the American Shoulder and Elbow Surgeons (ASES) score, and the Disabilities of the Arm, Shoulder and Hand (DASH) questionnaire.
Results: Eighteen patients (67%) had one or more subsequent surgical procedures, and eight of these patients had the procedure to address surgical complications. Five of the eight patients with complications and ten additional patients underwent routine removal of implants; these fifteen patients included twelve of the fourteen patients in the long-term cohort. In addition to the fracture of the distal part of the humerus, four patients had a dislocation of the elbow; three, a fracture of the olecranon or the proximal part of the ulna; and two, a fracture of the radial head. The median arc of flexion improved from 106° at the time of early follow-up to 119° at the time of long-term follow-up (p < 0.05). In the group of fourteen patients with long-term follow-up, the median Broberg and Morrey score was 93 points at the time of early follow-up and 95 points at the time of late follow-up. The functional results were worse for patients with a Type-3 fracture, as classified with the system of Dubberley et al., than they were for those with a Type-1 fracture. The fourteen patients with long-term follow-up had a median MEPI of 98 points, a median ASES score of 88 points, and a median DASH score of 8 points; nine of the fourteen patients had radiographic signs of arthrosis.
Conclusions: The vast majority of what appear to be capitellar fractures are actually complex fractures of the articular surface involving both the capitellum and the trochlea. More complex fractures have worse functional results; however, the functional results of operative treatment seem to be durable over time.
Level of Evidence: Therapeutic Level IV. See Instructions to Authors for a complete description of levels of evidence.