Authors:

Peter J. Millett, M.D., Burak Altintas, Nicole L. Anderson, & Robert Boykin

Abstract:

Purpose

To determine the management of torsional humeral shaft fractures in a group of expert shoulder and elbow surgeons and analyze the rate of return to sport of these throwing athletes.

Methods

A survey was sent to all physician members of two prominent sports medicine professional associations: the American Shoulder and Elbow Surgeons and the Herodicus Society. Due to the rare nature of this injury, a historical survey of management and return to play was performed to allow analysis of trends in treatment and return to play after both non-operative and operative management.

Results

The survey was emailed to 858 physician members. Out of the 95 respondents, 35 surgeons indicated they had treated ≥ 1 torsional humeral shaft fractures in throwing athletes (average 1.7 per surgeon). A total of 72 fractures were recorded with an average age of 20.4 years and the majority being male (68/72). Eighty-one percent (58/72) of the fractures were classified as simple spiral. Sixty-one percent (44/72) of the fractures were treated non-operatively, while 35% (25/72) of the fractures were treated by open reduction and internal fixation (ORIF). Patient age, return to sport rate and level, type of fracture, and fracture healing time did not significantly differ based on treatment type. Average time to return to sport was significantly shorter for patients who underwent ORIF compared to non-operative treatment (p = 0.001). Overall, 48 (92.3%) of the 52 athletes returned to sport, with 84% (36/43) returning to the same level of play.

Conclusion

Torsional humeral shaft fractures in throwers are most commonly seen in young men and can be treated both operatively and non-operatively with overall similar results for healing time, rate of non-union, and return to sport. The only significant difference in the groups was an earlier return to sports in those fixed surgically, however, operative intervention also yielded a higher complication rate. Regardless of the treatment method, the overall rate of return to play was moderate. These findings are clinically relevant and can assist physicians with decision-making for treatment and can help when advising throwers of appropriate expectations for recovery after this injury.

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