Outcomes Following Distal Humeral Fracture Fixation with an Extensor Mechanism-On Approach
Jason M. Erpelding, MD; Adam Mailander, OTR/L; Robin High, MBA, MA; Matthew A. Mormino, MD; Edward V. Fehringer, MD


Background: Distal humeral fractures have traditionally been managed with surgical approaches that disrupt the extensor mechanism. We hypothesized that an extensor mechanism-on approach for operative fixation of distal humeral fractures with parallel or orthogonal plate constructs would allow excellent healing, a motion arc of the elbow exceeding 100°, and maintenance of extensor mechanism strength.

Methods: Distal humeral open reduction and internal fixation (ORIF) was performed with either orthogonal or parallel plate constructs in seventy-nine elbows. Thirty-seven elbows were fixed via an extensor mechanism-on surgical approach, and twenty-four of them were available for additional evaluation. Radiographs as well as MEPI (Mayo Elbow Performance Index), DASH (Disabilities of the Arm, Shoulder and Hand), and SF-36 (Short Form-36) scores were obtained.

Results: All thirty-seven fractures healed primarily. Three elbows underwent later release because of stiffness. The median arc of elbow motion was 126° (range, 60° to 141°). The mean MEPI was 91.5 points and the mean DASH score was 15.9 points, indicating excellent scores with mild impairment. The median percent loss of triceps strength was 10% (range, 0% to 49%) compared with the contralateral, normal elbow.

Conclusions: Open treatment of distal humeral fractures with an extensor mechanism-on approach results in excellent healing, a mean elbow flexion-extension arc exceeding 100°, and maintenance of 90% of elbow extension strength compared with that of the contralateral, normal elbow.

Level of Evidence: Therapeutic Level IV. See Instructions for Authors for a complete description of levels of evidence.


  • Investigation performed at the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery and Rehabilitation, University of Nebraska Medical Center, Omaha, Nebraska

  • Disclosure: None of the authors received payments or services, either directly or indirectly (i.e., via his or her institution), from a third party in support of any aspect of this work. One or more of the authors, or his or her institution, has had a financial relationship, in the thirty-six months prior to submission of this work, with an entity in the biomedical arena that could be perceived to influence or have the potential to influence what is written in this work. Also, one or more of the authors has had another relationship, or has engaged in another activity, that could be perceived to influence or have the potential to influence what is written in this work. The complete Disclosures of Potential Conflicts of Interest submitted by authors are always provided with the online version of the article.

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