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J Bone Joint Surg Am. 2004 Mar;86-A Suppl 1:2-10.

Operative release of ankylosis of the elbow due to heterotopic ossification. Surgical technique.

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Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA 02114, USA.



Although uncommon, complete ankylosis of the elbow secondary to heterotopic ossification results in severe disability. The results of surgical management remain unclear.


A single surgeon used a consistent operative technique to treat complete osseous ankylosis of the elbow in eleven limbs in seven patients after severe burns and in nine elbows in eight patients after trauma. The elbows in the burn cohort were more often ankylosed in extension (average, 47 degrees of flexion) compared with those in the trauma cohort (66 degrees of flexion), and they had more skin problems (three elbows required a free microvascular muscle transfer for coverage) and associated problems of the shoulder, wrist, and hand.


Four patients in the burn cohort and three patients in the trauma cohort failed to regain at least 80 degrees of ulnohumeral motion. After a repeat release in three burn patients and three trauma patients, and at an average follow-up of forty months, the average arc of ulnohumeral motion was 81 degrees in the burn cohort and 94 degrees in the trauma cohort. Six of the eleven limbs in the burn cohort and five of the nine in the trauma cohort had a good result. The average score according to the American Shoulder and Elbow Surgeons elbow assessment form was 72 points for the burn cohort and 76 points for the trauma cohort.


Osseous ankylosis of the elbow is a severely disabling problem, and attempts to regain mobility are both worthwhile and safe. The results are comparable when the ankylosis is caused by burns or trauma despite the greater complexity of osseous ankylosis in the burned arm. Patients and surgeons should be aware of the small risk of recurrent heterotopic ossification and the moderate risk of pain or recurrent contracture after operative release.

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