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Treatment of Humeral Shaft Delayed Unions and Nonunions with Humeral Locked Nails

Lin, Jinn MD, PhD; Hou, Sheng-Mou MD, PhD; Hang, Yi-Shiong MD

Journal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery: April 2000 - Volume 48 - Issue 4 - p 695-703
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Objective: To report experience with use of humeral locked nails in treating humeral delayed unions and nonunions. The following techniques yielded encouragingly good results: static locking, short-to-long segment nailing, bone grafting, fracture compression, and minimal surgical trauma.

Design and Methods: A total of 41 consecutive patients with 13 delayed unions and 28 nonunions were treated with humeral locked nails. Delay from trauma to surgery averaged 4.2 months for delayed union and 15.5 months for nonunion. The average age of patients was 50.2 years; average follow-up time was 23.2 months. There were 7 proximal-third fractures, 21 middle-third fractures, and 13 distal-third fractures. The antegrade approach was used for 13 fractures and retrograde for 28. Open nailing was performed in 39 fractures and closed nailing in 2. If the fracture motion was still present after nail insertion, axial compression of the fracture site was specially applied. Bone grafting was performed in the fractures with open nailing. Thirty-four fractures were nailed with 8-mm nails, and 7 fractures were nailed with 7-mm nails.

Results: With a single operation, all but two patients achieved osseous union in, on average, 5.6 months. One of these two patients eventually gained union after another surgery with fracture compression along the original nail and concurrent bone grafting. The second patient, undergoing hemodialysis for chronic renal failure, had persistent nonunion. At follow-up, for patients with antegrade nailing, all but four patients had less than 20 degrees limitation of shoulder abduction. For patients with retrograde nailing, all but two had less than 10 degrees limitation of elbow motion. Only the patient with persistent nonunion had continual pain and significant impairment of arm function.

Conclusions: Humeral locked nailing seems to be effective for humeral delayed unions or nonunions. It may be an acceptable alternative for fractures unsuited for plate fixation, such as those with comminution, osteoporosis, or a severely adhered radial nerve.

From the Department of Orthopedic Surgery, National Taiwan University Hospital, Taipei, Taiwan.

Address for reprints: Yi-Shiong Hang, MD, Department of Orthopedic Surgery, National Taiwan University Hospital, No. 7 Chung Shan S. Road, Taipei 100, Taiwan, Republic of China.

Submitted for publication April 9, 1999.

Accepted for publication December 27, 1999.

Presented, in part, as an abstract at the 6th Meeting of the International Society of Fracture Repair, September 23–26, 1998, Strasbourg, France.

© 2000 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.