Background: The results of operative treatment of an unreduced elbow dislocation have been regarded with pessimism. Suggested procedures have included tendon-lengthening, tendon transfer, or reconstruction of ligament or bone.
Methods: Three women and two men (average age, forty-nine years) with an unreduced dislocation of the elbow without associated fractures were treated with open relocation of the joint and hinged external fixation at an average of eleven weeks (range, six to thirty weeks) after the initial injury. The lateral soft tissues, including the origin of the lateral collateral ligament complex, were reattached to the lateral epicondyle in three patients, but no attempt was made to reconstruct the ligaments, tendons, or bone. A passive worm gear incorporated into a hinged external fixator was used to mobilize the elbow initially, and active mobilization was gradually introduced. The hinge was removed at an average of five weeks after the procedure.
Results: At an average of thirty-eight months (range, twelve to ninety-eight months), a stable, concentric reduction had been maintained in all five patients, with radiographic signs of mild arthrosis in four. The average arc of flexion was 123×, and all patients had full forearm rotation. The average score on the Mayo Elbow Performance Index was 89 points, with two excellent and three good results. The average scores on the Disabilities of the Arm, Shoulder and Hand (DASH) and American Shoulder and Elbow Surgeons outcome instruments (13 and 92 points, respectively) reflected mild residual pain and disability.
Conclusions: Treatment of unreduced elbow dislocations with open reduction and hinged external fixation as much as thirty weeks after the injury can restore a stable, mobile joint without the need for tendon-lengthening or transfer, ligament reconstruction, or deepening of the trochlear notch of the ulna.