Background: Nonunion is a challenging and not uncommon complication of distal humeral fractures. Our long-term experience with linked semiconstrained total elbow arthroplasty as a salvage procedure for patients with distal humeral nonunion not amenable to internal fixation was investigated.
Methods: Ninety-one consecutive patients (ninety-two elbows) underwent total elbow arthroplasty for the treatment of a distal humeral nonunion, and the results were reviewed at a mean of 6.5 years postoperatively. Patients' charts and anteroposterior and lateral radiographs made prior to and immediately after the joint replacement and at the time of the latest follow-up were reviewed to identify intraoperative and postoperative complications, and radiographic evidence of loosening or bushing wear. The outcome measures consisted of prosthetic survival, with implant removal as the end point for failure, and the Mayo Elbow Performance Score (MEPS).
Results: At the time of the most recent follow-up, joint stability had been initially restored in all patients, including nine who had had a grossly flailed elbow. Sixty-seven (74%) of the patients had no pain or mild pain at the time of the latest follow-up, whereas seventy-nine patients (87%) had had moderate or severe pain prior to the surgery. While 85% (seventy-seven) of the ninety-one patients rated the outcome as better or much better, twenty patients (22%) had a fair or poor MEPS. A total of forty-four complications occurred in forty elbows, and there were thirty-two reoperations, twenty-three of which involved implant revision or removal. Factors that increased the risk of implant failure were a patient age of less than sixty-five years, two or more prior surgical procedures, and a history of infection. The rate of prosthetic survival without removal or revision for any reason was 96% at two years, 82% at five years, and 65% at both ten and fifteen years.
Conclusions: Linked semiconstrained total elbow arthroplasty is a salvage procedure that can provide pain relief and restore motion and function in patients with a distal humeral nonunion that is not amenable to internal fixation. Substantial risk factors for failure include an age of less than sixty-five years, multiple previous surgical procedures, and any history of infection.
Level of Evidence: Therapeutic Level IV. See Instructions to Authors for a complete description of levels of evidence.