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Complications After Pinning of Supracondylar Distal Humerus Fractures

Bashyal, Ravi K. MD* † ‡; Chu, Jennifer Y. MD*; Schoenecker, Perry L. MD* † ‡; Dobbs, Matthew B. MD* † ‡; Luhmann, Scott J. MD* † ‡; Gordon, J. Eric MD* † ‡

doi: 10.1097/BPO.0b013e3181b768ac

Background Supracondylar distal humerus fractures are one of the most common skeletal injuries in children. The current treatment of choice in North America is closed reduction and percutaneous pin fixation. Often surgeons leave the pins exposed beneath a cast but outside the skin. Great variation exists with respect to preoperative skin preparation, and perioperative antibiotic administration. Few data exist regarding the rate of infection and other complications. The purpose of this study is to review a large series of children to evaluate the rate of infection and other complications.

Methods A retrospective review was carried out of all patients treated at our institution over an 11-year period. A total of 622 patients were identified that were followed for a minimum of 2 weeks after pin removal. Seventeen patients had flexion-type fractures, 294 had type II fractures, and 311 had type III fractures. Seventy-four fractures (11.9%) had preoperative nerve deficits with anterior interosseous palsies being the most common (33 fractures, 5.3%). Preoperative antibiotics were given to 163 patients (26.2%). Spray and towel draping were used in 362 patients, paint and towel draping were used in 65 patients, alcohol paint and towel draping were used in 146 patients, and a full preparation and draping were used in 13 patients. The pins were left exposed under the cast in 591 fractures (95%), and buried beneath the skin in 31 fractures (5.0%). A medial pin was placed in 311 fractures with a small incision made to aid placement in 18 of these cases.

Results The most common complication was pin migration necessitating unexpected return to the operating room for pin removal in 11 patients (1.8%). One patient developed a deep infection with septic arthritis and osteomyelitis (0.2%). Five additional patients had superficial skin infections and were treated with oral antibiotics for a total infection rate of 6 of 622 patients (1.0%). One patient ultimately had a malunion and 4 others returned to the operating room for repeat reduction and pinning. Three patients developed compartment syndromes. Ulnar nerve injury was rare with only 1 postoperative ulnar nerve injury occurring in 311 patients treated with a medial pin (0.3%).

Conclusions Closed reduction with percutaneous pinning is effective and has a low complication rate with a very low rate of infection even when simple betadine preparation and towel draping are used. Preoperative antibiotics seem to have little effect on infection rate.

Level of Evidence Level III retrospective comparative study.

*Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, Washington University School of Medicine

St Louis Children's Hospital

St Louis Shriners Hospital, St Louis, MO

Reprints: J. Eric Gordon, MD, 4S-60 St. Louis Children's Hospital, 1 Children's Place, St. Louis, MO 63110. E-mail address:

Study conducted at Washington University School of Medicine, St Louis Shriners Hospital for Children, and St Louis Children's Hospital, St Louis, MO.

None of the authors received financial support for this study.

© 2009 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.