Radial nerve palsies with humeral shaft fractures have historically been treated with expectant management. A previous systematic review by Shao et al, based on studies published from 1964 to 2004, purported no difference in the rate of recovery between patients treated with early surgical intervention versus expectant treatment. However, the authors combined expectant treatment to include patients treated nonsurgically and those with delayed surgery. To better understand the effect of surgery and its timing on radial nerve recovery, an updated analysis was performed with stricter treatment definitions.

An updated systematic review of the published literature was undertaken. An electronic database search was performed to identify publications that met specific inclusion criteria. A total of 23 articles published since 2000 met our eligibility requirements. Data were abstracted from these articles and analyzed in conjunction with the results of the systematic review by Shao et al. RESULTS:: The overall prevalence of radial nerve palsy was 12.3% (890/7,262). Patients with radial nerve palsy treated nonsurgically had a rate of spontaneous radial nerve recovery of 77.2%. Patients who failed nonsurgical management and underwent nerve exploration more than 8 weeks after their injury had a rate of recovery of 68.1%. Patients treated with early (within 3 weeks of the injury) surgical exploration and fracture repair had a rate of recovery of 89.8%.

From the published data from 1964 to 2017, patients who underwent surgical exploration within 3 weeks of injury had a significantly higher likelihood of regaining radial nerve function than patients who underwent nonsurgical management with or without late surgical exploration.