The aim was to compare surgical and nonsurgical management for adults with humeral shaft fractures in terms of patient-reported upper limb function, health-related quality of life, radiographic outcomes, and complications.

MEDLINE, Embase, Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature, PubMed, Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials,, International Clinical Trials Registry, and OpenGrey (Repository for Grey Literature in Europe) were searched in September 2021. All published prospective randomized trials comparing surgical and nonsurgical management of humeral shaft fractures in adults were included. Of 715 studies identified, five were included in the systematic review and four in the meta-analysis. Data were extracted by two independent reviewers according to the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis statement. Methodological quality was assessed using the revised Cochrane risk-of-bias tool for randomized trials. Pooled data were analyzed using a random-effects model.

The meta-analysis comprised 292 patients (mean age 41 [18 to 83] years, 67% male). Surgery was associated with superior Disabilities of the Arm, Shoulder and Hand (DASH) and Constant-Murley scores at 6 months (mean DASH difference 7.6, P = 0.01; mean Constant-Murley difference 8.0, P = 0.003), but there was no difference at 1 year (DASH, P = 0.30; Constant-Murley, P = 0.33). No differences in health-related quality of life or pain scores were found. Surgery was associated with a lower risk of nonunion (0.7% versus 15.7%; odds ratio [OR] 0.13, P = 0.004). The number needed to treat with surgery to avoid one nonunion was 7. Surgery was associated with a higher risk of transient radial nerve palsy (17.4% versus 0.7%; OR 8.23, P = 0.01) but not infection (OR 3.57, P = 0.13). Surgery was also associated with a lower risk of reintervention (1.4% versus 19.3%; OR 0.14, P = 0.04).

Surgery may confer an early functional advantage to adults with humeral shaft fractures, but this is not sustained beyond 6 months. The lower risk of nonunion should be balanced against the higher risk of transient radial nerve palsy.

Level I.

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