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Clin Orthop Relat Res. 1988 Sep;(234):61-9.

Radial head fractures with acute distal radioulnar dislocation. Essex-Lopresti revisited.

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  • 1Division of Orthopaedic Surgery, University of North Carolina Medical School, Raleigh.


Seven adults with displaced radial head fractures had concurrent dislocation of the distal radioulnar joint. Because support of the radius was lost at both the elbow and wrist, proximal migration of the radius from 5 to 10 mm occurred. Different types of fractures were classified to designate the best method of restoring radial length to prevent chronic wrist pain and stiffness. Type I fractures had large displaced radial head fragments with minimal or no comminution and amenable to interfragmentary fixation. Type II fractures had severe comminution requiring radial head excision and prosthetic replacement. Type III were old injuries with irreducible proximal migration of the radius managed by ulnar shortening and radial head prosthetic replacement. There were three Type I, two Type II, and two Type III fractures. Results of treatment were graded as 3, excellent; 2, good; 1, fair; and 1, poor. The three excellent results were in patients in which restoration of radial length was achieved within one week of injury. Suboptimal results occurred in the remaining four patients when definitive surgery was delayed four to ten weeks. The poor result was in a patient treated only by radial head excision and who refused further surgery. Recommendations include meticulous clinical and roentgenographic examination of the distal radioulnar joint in all patients with displaced radial head fractures. Preservation of the radial head with anatomic reduction and rigid internal fixation is preferred, but radial head replacement may be necessary in cases with extensive comminution. Radial head excision alone, though contraindicated, may be restructured by ulnar shortening and radial head prosthetic replacement.

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