Temporary elbow stiffness is often seen after a lateral condylar fracture of the distal end of the humerus in children. There are scant scientific data available to assess the expected time frame for return of elbow motion after these injuries. The purpose of this study is to provide a prospective, longitudinal evaluation of elbow motion in a large group of pediatric patients undergoing treatment for a lateral condylar fracture of the distal end of the humerus.Methods:
We prospectively evaluated 141 patients with lateral humeral condylar fractures at a mean age of 5.2 years and with a mean follow-up of twenty-nine weeks. The patients were treated with cast immobilization, percutaneous pinning, or open reduction and internal fixation on the basis of the initial displacement. Elbow motion was followed longitudinally at clinic visits. Relative arc of motion was calculated as a percentage of the motion of the normal, contralateral elbow.Results:
The mean relative arc of motion at the time of cast removal was 44%, reaching 84% by week 12. By weeks 18, 24, 36, and 48, the relative arc of motion reached 87%, 90%, 93%, and 97%, respectively. Compared with fractures treated without surgery, those treated surgically had a significantly lower absolute arc of motion from the time of cast removal (p = 0.018) and up to eighteen weeks after the injury (p < 0.001); however, no significant difference was observed at eighteen weeks or beyond. For patients treated surgically, no significant difference in relative arc of motion was observed between the patients with closed or open reductions. The age of the patient (hazard ratio = 0.87, p = 0.008), length of immobilization (hazard ratio = 0.79, p = 0.03), and severity of the fracture (hazard ratio = 0.40, p < 0.0001) were independent predictors of recovery of elbow motion after a lateral humeral condylar fracture in children.Conclusions:
An initial rapid recovery in elbow motion can be expected after a lateral humeral condylar fracture in a child, with progressive improvements for up to one year after the injury. This recovery is slower if the patient is older, has a longer period of immobilization, and has a more severe injury.Level of Evidence:
Prognostic Level I. See Instructions to Authors for a complete description of levels of evidence.