The operation is performed to treat selected fractures of the humerus, which are displaced. In some individuals surgery may be offered in order to allow an earlier return to function.

How is the procedure performed?

The operation is performed under a combination of general and regional anaesthesia. The fracture may be exposed through an open incision, the bone fragments realigned and then fixed with a plate and screws. Alternatively, the fracture may be realigned by manipulation and fixed with a an intramedullary nail (rod). The fixation may occasionally be supplemented with bone grafting using “off the shelf” bone substitutes or augmented using bone cement.

Benefits

Surgery allows the displaced bone fragments to be realigned and fixed in a way that restores and maintains the shape of the bone. This is turn allows an earlier and better recovery of function.

Risks

Medical complications

Chest infection, Deep vein thrombosis, Pulmonary embolism, Myocardial infection are possible after surgery.

Surgical complications

Infection: This can occur after any operation where metal devices are implanted in the body. Several measures are employed to minimize the risk of infection including administration of antibiotics prior to the operation, an antiseptic technique and the use of a clean air theatre.

Nerve  injury: With operative fixation, the radial nerve may need to be moved out of the way and this may result in temporary dysfunction. In most instances the nerve injury recovers. Permanent nerve injury is possible but rare.

Bleeding : Bleeding may occur during or after surgery. A blood transfusion is rarely required. In very rare instances a blood vessel may be damaged as a consequence of injury or surgery.

Fixation failure: If the bone is weak due to osteoporosis, the fixation device may not hold well and the fixation may fail. This may in turn lead to implant migration.

Implant migration: If the bone collapses during the course of healing then the screws may penetrate the joint or loosen.

Malunion: Sometimes the bone may heal in an abnormal position. In some instances the arm may continue to function well despite a malunion but if function is affected then further surgery may be considered.

Nonunion: Occasionally the fracture may fail to heal. This may require further surgery.

Stiffness: This is not uncommon following injury and surgery. In most instances it will resolve as you start moving the arm with the aid of physiotherapy. If stiffness persists upto 9-12 months after surgery then further surgery may be considered to treat the stiffness.

Implant related symptoms: Metal implants may occasionally cause symptoms such as aching, which may feel worse in cold weather. If these symptoms are troublesome, removal of the fixation device may be considered.


Aftercare

Following the procedure the surgical wound is covered with a shower-proof dressing.  The dressing should be left undisturbed as far as possible for 14 days.  If the dressing is removed for any reason it should be replaced with a similar dressing or waterproof plaster. Prior to discharge from hospital a physiotherapist will provide instructions about looking after the arm.  You will be advised to protect the arm by wearing a sling for 4 weeks and intermittently performing movements of the shoulder and elbow within certain limits. After 4 weeks you may stop wearing the sling and will be allowed to move the arm actively through a greater range. You may resume driving at 3-4 weeks. Strengthening exercises are started after 12 weeks. Vigorous use of the arm or lifting heavy objects should be avoided for at least 3 months. Outpatient physiotherapy will be arranged and may need to be continued for 6-12 months.

 

Follow-up

An appointment will be arranged for you to be seen 2 weeks after the procedure.  Follow-up is required for at least 6-12 months after surgery or until a satisfactory recovery is achieved. X-rays will be performed at intervals to monitor fracture healing.



Humeral shaft fracture
Appearance and progress after nailing