Distal biceps tendon injuries typically occur in the dominant arm of men in their fourth decade of life. Surgical repair restores flexion and supination strength, resulting in good functional outcome. The complication profile of each surgical approach and fixation technique has not been widely studied in the literature.

To report the rate of complications after repair of complete distal biceps ruptures, to classify them according to surgical approach and fixation technique, and to analyze risk factors and outcomes of the individual complications.

Systematic review.

Studies published in English on primary repair of the distal biceps between January 1998 and January 2019 were identified. Data on complications were extracted and classified as major and minor for analysis. A quantitative synthesis of data was done to compare the complication rates between (1) limited anterior incision, extensile anterior incision, and double incision and (2) 4 fixation methods.

Seventy-two articles including 3091 primary distal biceps repairs were identified. The overall complication rate was 25% (n = 774). The major complication rate was 4.6% (n = 144) and included a 1.6% (n = 51) rate of posterior interosseous nerve injury; 0.3% (n = 10), median nerve injury; 1.4% (n = 43), rerupture; and a 0.1% (n = 4), synostosis. Brachial artery injury, ulnar nerve injury, compartment syndrome, proximal radius fracture, and chronic regional pain syndrome occurred at a rate of < 0.1% each. The majority of nerve injuries resolved with an expectant approach. The minor complication rate was 20.4% (n = 630). The most common complication was lateral cutaneous nerve injury (9.2%, n = 283). An extensile single incision was associated with a higher rate of superficial radial nerve injury when compared to limited single incision(6% vs 2.1%, P = .002). Limited anterior single incision technique had a higher rate of lateral antebrachial cutaneous nerve injury compared to extensile single incision. (9.7% vs 5.2%, P = .03). Synostosis occurred only with double incision. Fixation technique had no significant effect on rerupture rate and posterior interosseous nerve injury rate.

This is the largest analysis of complications after distal biceps repair, indicating a major complication rate of 4.6%. This study provides valuable data with regard to the choice of technique, surgical approach, and rate of complications, which is essential for surgical planning and patient consent.

CRD42017074066 (PROSPERO).

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