With current techniques of plate-and-screw fixation, diaphyseal nonunions of the radius and ulna are unusual. The few reports that have been published have discussed the use of structural corticocancellous bone grafts for the treatment of atrophic nonunions that are associated with osseous defects. We reviewed the rate of union and the functional results in association with the use of plate-and-screw fixation and autogenous cancellous (nonstructural) bone grafts.

Thirty-five patients with an atrophic ununited diaphyseal fracture of the forearm were treated with 3.5-mm plate-and-screw fixation and autogenous cancellous bone-grafting. A segmental osseous defect with an average size of 2.2 cm (range, 1 to 6 cm) was present in each patient. Twenty of the original fractures had been open. Eleven patients had had treatment of a deep infection before referral to us. The nonunion involved both forearm bones in eight patients, the radius alone in sixteen patients, and the ulna alone in eleven patients.

The atrophic nonunion was associated with an open fracture in twenty patients, suboptimal fixation in twenty-two, a fracture-dislocation of the forearm in nine, and infection in eleven. All fractures healed without additional intervention within six months. Two patients had a subsequent Darrach resection of the distal part of the ulna for the treatment of arthrosis of the distal radioulnar joint. After an average duration of follow-up of forty-three months, the final arc of motion averaged 121 degrees in the forearm, 131 degrees at the elbow, and 137 degrees at the wrist, with an average grip strength of 83% compared with that of the contralateral limb. According to the system of Anderson and colleagues, five patients had an excellent result, eighteen had a satisfactory result, eleven had an unsatisfactory result (because of elbow stiffness related to associated elbow injuries in three and because of wrist stiffness in eight), and one had a poor result (because of malunion).

When the soft-tissue envelope is compliant, has limited scar, and consists largely of healthy muscle with a good vascular supply, autogenous cancellous bone-grafting and stable internal plate fixation results in a high rate of union and improved upper limb function in patients with diaphyseal nonunion of the radius and/or ulna.

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