Background: Delayed union or nonunion of a fracture of the humerus is an infrequent but debilitating complication. Open reduction and internal fixation combined with autologous bone-grafting can result in reliable healing of the fracture; however, there is morbidity associated with the bone-graft donor site. This study was designed to evaluate healing of ununited fractures of the humeral shaft treated by one surgeon at one institution with a strict and consistent surgical protocol but with the use of two different types of bone graft: autologous iliac crest bone graft and demineralized bone matrix.
Methods: A consecutive retrospective cohort series was analyzed. From 1992 to 1999, forty-five patients with an aseptic, atrophic delayed union or nonunion of a humeral shaft fracture were treated with open reduction and internal fixation with a plate and autologous iliac crest bone graft. The mean time from the fracture to the surgery was 14.0 months, and the mean duration of follow-up was 32.8 months. From 2000 to 2003, thirty-three patients with the same condition were treated with the same protocol with the exception that demineralized bone matrix was used instead of autologous iliac crest bone graft. The mean time from the fracture to the surgery in that group was 22.6 months, and the mean duration of follow-up was 20.4 months. All patients in both groups were assessed clinically and radiographically.
Results: Osseous union was noted clinically and radiographically following the index surgery in 100% of the forty-five patients treated with autologous bone graft and 97% (thirty-two) of the thirty-three patients treated with demineralized bone matrix. The mean time to union was 4.5 months in the group treated with autologous bone graft and 4.2 months in the group treated with demineralized bone matrix. The overall functional outcome did not differ between the groups; however, twenty (44%) of the autologous bone-graft recipients had donor site morbidity, including a prolonged pain in the majority and a superficial infection requiring irrigation and débridement in one patient.
Conclusions: Healing of an ununited humeral shaft fracture can be achieved consistently with rigid plate fixation and lag-screw compression augmented with either autologous cancellous bone graft or commercially available demineralized bone matrix. The harvest of the autologous bone graft is frequently associated with complications.
Level of Evidence: Therapeutic Level III. See Instructions to Authors for a complete description of levels of evidence.
1 Orthopaedic Trauma Service, Weill Medical College of Cornell University-Hospital for Special Surgery, 535 East 70th Street, New York, NY 10021. E-mail address for D.L. Helfet: email@example.com