Background: Monteggia fractures remain challenging pediatric injuries because of difficulties in diagnosis, propensity for instability, and complexity of late reconstruction. The objective of this investigation was to assess the efficacy of the following treatment strategy based upon ulnar fracture pattern: closed reduction (CR) for plastic/greenstick fractures, intramedullary (IM) pin fixation for transverse/short oblique fractures, and open reduction and internal fixation for long oblique/comminuted fractures.
Methods: A total of 112 acute Monteggia fracture patients were retrospectively analyzed at two level 1 pediatric trauma centers from 2000 to 2011. Mean age was 6.9±2.9 years (range, 0.6 to 16.7 y); 54% were male. Mean clinical follow-up was 19.8 weeks. Fracture patterns were classified and patients were separated into 3 groups: treatment according to the strategy versus more rigorous versus less rigorous intervention. The Fisher exact test was used to compare the rates of failure between the groups. “Failure” was defined as failure to obtain and maintain an anatomic reduction of the radial head and/or loss of ulnar reduction during follow-up.
Results: None of the 57 patients treated according to the strategy experienced failure, nor did any of the 23 patients treated more rigorously. In contrast, 6 of 32 patients (19%) who were treated less rigorously compared with the recommended strategy demonstrated recurrent radiocapitellar instability (n=3), loss of ulnar fracture reduction requiring revision surgery (n=2), or both events together (n=1) (P<0.001). Specifically, all treatment failures occurred in complete fractures treated nonoperatively—there were 6/18 failures (33% failure rate) of complete fractures treated nonoperatively compared with 0/52 failures of complete fractures treated operatively (P<0.001). Other complications were similarly distributed between the treatment groups and consisted of 1 ulnar nonunion, 2 compartment syndromes, and 3 transient nerve palsies/neuropraxias. Comminuted fractures required open reduction of the radiocapitellar joint more than other fracture types (P<0.001).
Conclusions: In this pediatric Monteggia series, recurrent instability only occurred in patients who were not treated according to the ulnar-based strategy. Complete ulnar fracture patterns are at risk of failure without initial operative treatment.
Level of Evidence: Level III, therapeutic.