The aims of this study were to determine how often fracture reduction alone restored pulses and vascular perfusion in displaced supracondylar humerus fractures with absent distal pulses on presentation, and whether any preoperative factors were associated with the need for vascular repair and vascular complications.

We reviewed 1255 supracondylar humerus fractures in children treated operatively over 12 years at one institution. We identified 33 patients who presented with displaced supracondylar humerus fractures and absent distal pulses. We reviewed the management and outcome of these injuries.

Thirty-three (of 1255) patients presented with a pulseless supracondylar humerus fracture (2.6%). The patients were divided into 2 groups: those at presentation whose hand was well perfused (n=24) or poorly perfused (9). None (0 of 24) of the well-perfused patients underwent vascular repair; 3 had open reduction. Of the 21 well-perfused patients undergoing closed reduction and pinning, 11 (of 21) had a palpable pulse after surgery and 10 (of 21) remained pulseless but well perfused; all did well clinically. Of the 9 patients in the poorly perfused group, 4 underwent vascular repair, and compartment syndrome developed in 2 during the postoperative period. In just over half of patients with a poorly perfused hand (5 of 9), fracture reduction alone was the definitive treatment.

In the largest series of children with pulseless displaced supracondylar humerus fractures in the literature, we identify 2 distinct populations, with the perfusion status of the hand at time of presentation correlating significantly with the ultimate need for vascular repair. In patients presenting with a well-perfused hand, fracture reduction alone was sufficient treatment in all 24 (of 24) cases, and no patients developed compartment syndrome. Nearly half of these patients still had an absent palpable pulse but well-perfused hand after closed reduction, yet did well clinically. Patients presenting with a poorly perfused hand are at high risk for vascular repair and compartment syndrome.

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