July 1999, Volume 49, Issue 7

Original Article

Extensor Mechanism Sparing Approach to the Elbow for reduction and Internal Fixation of Intercondylar Fracture of the Humerus

A. R. Jamali  ( Department Of Orthopaedics, Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre, Karachi-Pakistan. )
Ghulam Mehboob  ( Department Of Orthopaedics, Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre, Karachi-Pakistan. )
Saghir Ahmed  ( Department Of Orthopaedics, Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre, Karachi-Pakistan. )


Objective: To evaluate the short term results of extensor mechanism sparing approach to the elbow for fixation of intercondylar fractures of the distal end of humerus and compare it with existing Surgical approaches.
Design: This is a prospective study conducted from June, 1992 to June, 1997.
Setting: Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre and Mebran Clinic (Pvt.), Karachi.
Principle of Surgical Approach: This approach is based upon the principle that by sparing the extensor mechanism, we reduce the amount of surgical trauma and help in early rehabilitation which can contribute in improving the results of this difficult fracture.
Results: There were nine type 2 fractures, eight type 3 fractures and four type 4 fractures according to Rise borough and Radin classification. Based upon the same authors criteria, there were over all 57.14 % good 23.81 % fair and 19.04 % poor results. Adequate exposure was achieved in all of type 2 and seven (87.5 %) out of eight type 3 fractures. We failed in type 4 fractures. Mean operating time was 107.38 (± 24.67) minutes.
Conclusion: The results in this series are comparable to other studies. They can however he improved with proper selection of cases, experience with the technique alongwith better fixation and rehabilitations (JPMA 49: 164, 1999).


Intercondylar fractures of the humerus still pose a difficulty because of the its configuration and peculiar anatomy of the elbow. These fractures usually occur as a result of direct trauma to the elbow with olecranon ridge being the driving force.The resultant fracture is either “T” or “Y” shaped with or with out “inter” or “Supra” condylar comminution. The intra articular fracture line is usually in the trochlea where olecranon ridge strikes or lateral to it depending upon their configuration, various classifications1,2 are used to group them.
Surgical approaches to reduce and fix these fractures are difficult because of triceps mechanism, location of ulnar and posterior introsseus nerve and blood supply to lateral condyle of humerus. The surgical exposures currently used for these fractures can be grouped into those dividing triceps mechanism3-6 and giving very good exposure or those that save triceps mechanism but give limited exposure3,4,7,8. This approach is based upon the fact that the intercondylar fractures without intra articular comminution do not require extensive approach dividing triceps mechanism and by saving triceps mechanism, the surgical trauma can be reduced thus allowing early mobilization.
This study evaluates an approach in respect of adequacy of exposure and functional results following surgery and compare them with other studies1,2,9-12

Patients and Methods

A prospective study was conducted at Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre and Mehran Clinic from June, 1992 to June, 1997. The sample consisted of twenty one fractures of the distal end of the humerus which were operated according to a modified approach to the elbow. The type of fixation varied from case to case. These fractures were classified according to Riseborough and Radin2 classification and only type 2,3 and 4 were included. One patient did have Montteggia fracture dislocation and another had radial nerve palsy.
Under anaesthesia patient was placed in lateral position with fractured side up with the arm rests on a pillow with elbow flexed at 900. Hand was toweled and left free. The length of incision varied with the age of type of the fixation but it usually started 10 cm above the elbow posteriorly in midline, gently curving along the lateral side of olecranon and again to midline 4 cm below the elbow. Superficial and deep fascia were cut in the same line. Triceps muscle was splilt from lateral side of olecranon to lateral intermuscular septum and then dissected along it. A rim of tissue was left laterally for later closure. Triceps was now dissected subperiosteally and retracted medially to visualize supra condylar component of the fracture. An inverted “L” shaped incision was made in to the capsule and joint was opened, cleared of blood and lose fragments. By gentle retraction of olecranon, fracture was visualized, reduced and fixed starting with intercondylar component in most cases, followed by supracondylar component. If further exposure was required then Ulnar nerve was identified, dissected and secured on the medial side. A small medial para triceps incision is made to facilitate exposure and reduction. In some cases with intra art icular comminution or some other problem, this was converted to V.Y tricepsplasty or transolecranon approach. If the fractures of radial head or neck warranted treatment, they were exposed by retracting anconeus and supinator. Finally a drain was kept and wound was closed. Application of POP cast depended upon the stability of fracture. The period of immobilization varied from two to eight weeks depending upon the stabilityof fixation.
The follow-up varied between three months to one year. The results were evaluated for adequacy of exposure, operating time and functional results based upon the criteria of Rise borough and Radin2 which is as follows:
Good: Range of elbow flexion from 30° or less to 115° or more. None or minimal symptoms.
Fair: Range of elbow flexion from 30°-60° to 115° or more. None or minimal symptoms.
Poor: Range of elbow flexion from 60° or more to less than 1150 with or with out major symptoms.


Of these 21 fractures nine were of type 2, eight were type 3 and four were type 4 according to Riseborough and Radin classification. Adequate exposure was achieved to reduce (Table 1)

and fix all the type 2 fractures. Three of these required only lateral para triceps dissection. One required distal extension to fix Montteggia fracture dislocation. Adequate exposure and fixation was achieved in seven out of eight type 3 fractures. In one case with supra condylar comminution and small medial fragment, the reduction was less than ideal with V shaped deformity of the trochlea. All of these required medial and lateral para triceps dissection. Type 4 fractures posed difficulty as three of them required conversion to V. Y triceps plasty to achieve adequate exposure for reduction and fixation. In the last case, the reduction was poor with space of about 2 mm between intra articular fragments. The operating time varied from sixty minutes to one hundred sixty five minutes with mean±SD being 107.38 ± 24.67 minutes. More operating time was required during initial cases and type 4 fractures. In the process of dissection there was iatrogenic partial damage to the ulnar nerve in one patient. Another patient had torniquet palsy from which he recovered. Twelve patients had good functional results (Table 2)

with seven belonging to type 2 and five to type 3 fractures. Five patients had fair results with two belonging to type 2, two to type 3 and one to type 4 fractures. Four had poor results with one belonging to type 3 and three to type 4 fractures.


Intercondylar fractures of the humerus are not common and most10-13 of the series have limited number of the cases. This along with the fact that the different1,2,11 authors have used different classification and functional assessment of these fractures rendering it very difficult to compare the data. The basic surgical approaches widely accepted for open reduction and internal fixation of these fractures which give good exposure are Campbells4 V.Y Tricepsplasty and Transolecranon approach. Both divide triceps mechanism, require more dissection, and delay rehabilitation thus adversely affecting functional results. In fact initial results of surgery were poorer than conservative treatment2. The Campbells4 approach gives more exposure proximally but causes triceps weakness and fibrosis, which is also seen in some of the modifications3,4,6,8 in an attempt to save triceps mechanism. The incidence of triceps weakness has been reported to vary from 11 % to 29 %. The transolecranon approach gives very good exposure and can allow early mobilization in some cases but is difficult to extend proximally2-4 It also adds one more fracture to already injured elbow thus increasing tissue trauma. Further more Morrey14 does not advocate this approach while considering total elbow arthroplasty because interference with cementing of ulna. We differ with the concept of dealing all intercondylar fractures with a single yard stick and feet that the intercondylar fractures without intraarticular comminution can be exposed, reduced and fixed without dividing triceps mechanism, provided fragments are large enough to be controlled and manipulated. Adequate exposure was achieved for reduction and fixation in sixteen out of seventeen Radin type 2 and 3 (Allgower Cl and C2) fractures through this approach. The same is not true for Radin type 4 (Allgower type C3) fractures, where V.Y tricepsplasty or transolecranon approach is preferred. However there is role for conservative treatment in type 4 fractures.
It is difficult to compare functional results with different authors1,2,8,9 because of usage of different classifications and criteria for evaluation. However it is obvious from these studies that the results are not satisfactory if seen in light of basic biomechanica] properties of the elbow and it’s range of motion15,16. The range of motion at elbow is 00 - 146° but most of normal activities of living can be accomplished with flexion of 30° to 130° and rotation of 100° (Pronation 50° and supination 50°).
The results of surgery as reported by various authors are Jupitor et al’ 38.21 % excellent and 41.17 good total being 79.48 % (2) Noack et al11 18.75 % excellent and 56.25 % good total being 75 % Talha et at 85 % good and very good, and Gupta’° 75% excellent.
This study shows 57.14 % good and 23.81 % fair results (total being 78.95 %) according to Riseborough and Radin2 assessment criteria which is more or less comparable to excellent and good categories of Ailgower’s’ criteria.
The results are comparable to those of others however with proper selection of the cases and experience with this approach along with better fixation and rehabilitation, the results can be improved.
The basic factors2 which lead to the poor results as outlined by Riseborough and Radin2 include mechanical block, inverted V deformity, bony offset, joint irregularity, obliteration of olecranon fossa by callus or fibrosis, Peri articular fibrosis, repeated manipulations and triceps weakness. However the prime factor is the original injury and configuration of fracture.
Earlier surgeons2 preferred conservative over surgical treatment because the wide exposure required needs extensive dessection and inadequate fixation resulting in poor results. The results however can be improved with accurate reduction and early rehabilitation9.
Following factors contributed to failures in this series (a) severity of injury (b) operative trauma (c) poor fixation and (d) delayed rehabilitation. Type 4 fractures in this series had all the factors operating simultaneously which lead to poor results.


We appreciate and thank Professor Ali Mohammed Ansari for providing some of his cases for this study.


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