Locking plate versus nonsurgical treatment for proximal humeral fractures: better midterm outcome with nonsurgical treatment

Rick Sanders, Luc Thissen, Jop Teepen, Albert van Kampen, Ruud Jaarsma

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    45 Citations (Scopus)


    Background: Since its introduction, there has been controversy about the use of locking plates in the treatment of proximal humeral fractures. Have they really improved the functional outcome after a proximal humeral fracture or should nonsurgical treatment have a more prominent role? In order to evaluate our hypothesis that nonsurgical treatment for proximal humerus fractures should be the first choice of treatment, a matched controlled cohort study was conducted to compare the midterm (>1 year) functional and radiologic outcome of a group of patients treated with a locking plate and a matched group of patients treated nonsurgically. Complications in each group of patients were evaluated. Materials and methods: Through direct matching, 17 patients (1 bilateral fracture) treated with a locking plate were matched to 18 patients treated nonsurgically. Medical records and radiographs were reviewed retrospectively to obtain relevant patient related data and fracture type according to Neer classification (i.e. 2-, 3- and 4-part fractures). At the time of clinical follow-up, EQ-5D, American Shoulder and Elbow Surgeons (ASES) score, visual analog pain (VAS) pain and VAS satisfaction scores were completed. Active range of motion was tested. New radiographs were made to evaluate fracture healing, complications and, in the locking plate group, the position of the plate and screws. Results: No significant differences were found in the characteristics of the patient groups. A significant difference in range of motion was found in favor of the nonsurgically treated patients. Results of ASES and patient satisfaction scores were also tending toward nonsurgical treatment. Furthermore, the complication rate was higher with locking plate treatment. Patients treated with a locking plate needed significantly more additional treatment on their injured shoulder (P = 0.005). Discussion: This study's main limitation was the fact that the choice of initial fracture management was based on clinical judgement, as well as patient's fitness for surgery and therefore not randomized. By matching for fracture type this bias was largely overcome. Surgical treatment had a higher complication rate, requiring more additional treatment, which was often related to the initial surgery. Improving surgical technique could possibly lead to better outcomes for the surgically treated patients. In addition to the more favorable outcomes, nonsurgical treatment is also a more cost effective treatment. Conclusion: Nonsurgical treatment should have a more prominent role in the treatment of proximal humeral fractures.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1118-1124
    Number of pages7
    JournalJournal of Shoulder and Elbow Surgery
    Issue number7
    Publication statusPublished - Oct 2011


    • Active range of motion
    • ASES score
    • Complication rate
    • EQ-5D score
    • Level III
    • Locking-plate
    • Nonsurgical treatment
    • Proximal humeral fracture
    • Retrospective Case Control Study
    • Treatment Study


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