The purpose of this study was to review the cases of patients with a distal humeral fracture that was treated with a noncustom total elbow arthroplasty. We hypothesized that, on the basis of the functional and clinical outcome, total elbow replacement is a reliable option for the treatment of elderly patients with a severe, comminuted fracture of the distal part of the humerus.

We retrospectively reviewed forty-nine acute distal humeral fractures in forty-eight patients who were treated with total elbow arthroplasty as the primary option. The average age of the patients was sixty-seven years. Forty-three fractures were followed for at least two years. According to the AO classification, five fractures were type A, five were type B, and thirty-three were type C. The average age of the forty-three patients was sixty-nine years and the average duration of follow-up was seven years. Fourteen patients died during the review period. Postoperative clinical function was assessed with use of the Mayo elbow performance score, and anteroposterior and lateral radiographs made at follow-up examinations were reviewed.

At the latest follow-up examination, the average flexion arc was 24 degrees (range, 0 degrees to 75 degrees ) to 131 degrees (range, 100 degrees to 150 degrees ) and the Mayo elbow performance score averaged 93 of a possible 100 points. Heterotopic ossification was present to some extent in seven elbows, with radiographic abutment noted in two. Thirty-two (65%) of the forty-nine elbows had neither a complication nor any further surgery from the time of the index arthroplasty to the most recent follow-up evaluation. Fourteen elbows (29%) had a single complication, and most of them did not require further surgery. Ten additional procedures, including five revision arthroplasties, were required in nine elbows; five were related to soft tissue and five were related to the implant or bone.

Complex distal humeral fractures should be assessed primarily for the reliability with which they can be reconstructed with osteosynthesis. When osteosynthesis is not considered to be feasible, especially in patients who are physiologically older and place lower demands on the joint, total elbow arthroplasty can be considered. This retrospective review supports a recommendation for total elbow arthroplasty for the treatment of an acute distal humeral fracture when strict inclusion criteria are observed.