Background: The safety of delayed surgical treatment of severe supracondylar elbow fractures in children remains debated. No large studies have evaluated complications of injury and surgery evaluating only type 3 fractures. Our aim was to review the results of our experience treating children with severe supracondylar elbow fractures at various time points after injury.
Methods: All children treated operatively for supracondylar humerus fractures from 2004 to 2007 at a single pediatric trauma center were identified. A total of 1296 children had operative treatment, of which 872 had type 3 fractures. Clinical records were reviewed to identify time to surgery from presentation at our institution. Patients were grouped into 4 cohorts [<6 h (n=325), 6 to 12 h (n=224), 12 to 24 h (n=295), and >24 h (n=28)]. Emergency, operative, inpatient, and outpatient records were reviewed to determine morbidity at presentation as well as operative and postoperative complications.
Results: There was no difference in sex, age, or energy mechanism between children in the various time groups. An absent pulse was found in 54 children (6%) at presentation, of which only 5 ultimately required a vascular intervention. Nerve injury occurred in 105 patients (12%). Use of a medial entry pin was not associated with ulnar nerve injury. Increased time from presentation to surgery was not associated with increased morbidity from the injury or treatment complications. In contrast, there was a trend to steady decrease in morbidity and complication rates with increased time to surgery.
Conclusions: This is the largest single-center study of severe supracondylar humerus fractures and describes rates of vascular compromise, nerve injury, infection, and other complications of these injuries. Most children with type 3 supracondylar humerus fractures can be treated safely in a delayed manner. Appropriate clinical judgment is imperative to optimize outcomes.
Level of Evidence: Level III—retrospective comparative study.