Background: Operative contracture release may improve motion of a posttraumatic stiff elbow. In this study, we tested the hypothesis that improvement in ulnohumeral motion after elbow contracture release leads to improvement in general health status and decreases upper-extremity-specific disability.
Methods: Twenty-three patients with posttraumatic loss of ≥30° of elbow flexion or extension who elected to have an open elbow capsulectomy completed the Disabilities of the Arm, Shoulder and Hand questionnaire (DASH) and the Short Form-36 (SF-36) preoperatively and at least one year postoperatively. Pain was measured with use of the American Shoulder and Elbow Surgeons (ASES) Elbow Evaluation instrument. Four patients underwent additional, subsequent procedures to address residual elbow stiffness.
Results: One patient who needed several additional procedures, including a total elbow arthroplasty, was considered to have had a failure of the operative contracture release and was excluded from the analysis; this left twenty-two patients in the study. On the average, the arc of flexion and extension improved from 51° preoperatively to 106° postoperatively; the DASH score, from 38 points to 18 points; the SF-36 Physical Component Summary (PCS) score, from 39 points to 49 points (all p < 0.05); and the SF-36 Mental Component Summary (MCS) score, from 49 points to 54 points (p < 0.05). There was no significant correlation between the improvement in the arc of flexion and extension and the improvement in the DASH (p = 0.53), PCS (p = 0.73), or MCS (p = 0.41) score. There also was no correlation between the final arc of flexion and extension and the final DASH score (p = 0.39 for the total score, p = 0.52 for the PCS score, and p = 0.42 for the MCS score).
Conclusions: Health status and disability scores improve after open elbow contracture release, but the improvements do not correlate with the improvement in elbow motion. Among multiple objective and subjective factors, pain was a strong predictor of the final general health status and arm-specific disability.
Level of Evidence: Therapeutic Level IV. See Instructions to Authors for a complete description of levels of evidence.
1Orthopaedic Hand and Upper Extremity Service, Massachusetts General Hospital, 55 Fruit Street, Boston, MA 02114. E-mail address for D. Ring: firstname.lastname@example.org