There is a lack of consensus regarding the optimal surgical approach and fixation method for distal biceps tendon ruptures. The purpose of this study was to conduct a systematic review comparing the results of the various surgical approaches and repair techniques for acute distal biceps tendon ruptures.

We searched the MEDLINE, Cochrane, and Embase databases for all published randomized controlled trials, prospective cohort studies, or case series that involved primary repairs of acute distal biceps tendon ruptures with use of a cortical button, intraosseous screws, suture anchors, or bone tunnels for fixation. Exclusion criteria included case reports, cadaveric studies, repairs of partial ruptures, revision repairs, and multiple methods of fixation in the same patient. Statistical analysis was performed with use of the chi-square test.

Twenty-two studies met the inclusion criteria. The total number of patients was 494 (498 elbows). The complication rate was 24.5% (122 of 498 elbows) overall, and it was 23.9% (seventy-eight of 327) for one-incision procedures and 25.7% (forty-four of 171) for two-incision procedures (p = 0.32). The complication rate was 26.4% (seventy-five of 284) for suture anchors, 20.4% (thirty-four of 167) for bone tunnels, 44.8% (thirteen of twenty-nine) for intraosseous screws, and 0% (zero of eighteen) for cortical button fixation. The complication rate for use of bone tunnels was significantly lower than that for intraosseous screws (p < 0.01). Similarly, the cortical button method proved superior to intraosseous screws (p = 0.01). The most common complication was lateral antebrachial cutaneous nerve neurapraxia (9.6% across all studies, 11.6% for one incision, and 5.8% for two incisions).

The complication rate did not differ significantly between one and two-incision distal biceps repairs; however, the bone tunnel and cortical button methods had significantly lower complication rates compared with suture anchors and intraosseous screws. Further studies are needed to determine the optimal number of incisions.