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Increased Medial Displacement of the Humeral Shaft of at Least 40% Correlates with an Increased Incidence of Nerve Injury in Proximal Humerus Fractures

January 10, 2022

Several orthopaedic experts, including UPMC Orthopaedic Care physicians Gele Moloney, MD, Peter Siska, MD, and Ivan Tarkin, MD, collaborated to conduct a study identifying the risk factors for a neurologic deficit following a proximal humerus fracture, with particular interest in the utility of the magnitude of medial shaft displacement as a predictor of neurologic dysfunction.

Fracture displacement has been identified as a qualitative risk factor for nerve injury, and additional attention should be paid to the neurologic exams of patients with proximal humerus fractures with significant medial shaft displacement. However, a quantitative relationship between the risk of nerve injury and medialization of the humeral shaft has not been shown, and additional risk factors for this complication have not been assessed.

To identify clinical neurological deficits, a retrospective chart review was performed on all proximal humerus fractures in a 3-year period (2012-2015) at a level one trauma center. Isolated greater tuberosity fractures (OTA 11-A1) were excluded. Fracture displacement was measured on initial injury AP shoulder radiograph and expressed as a percentage of humeral diaphyseal width.

As a result, 139 patients were identified for inclusion. There were 22 patients (16%) with new neurologic deficits at presentation, and the average shaft medial displacement in patients with neurologic injuries was 59% vs. 21% without nerve deficits. Using a 40% medial displacement threshold, the odds ratio for a nerve injury was 5.24.

These findings demonstrated how increased medial displacement of the humeral shaft following proximal humerus fracture is associated with an increased incidence of nerve injury at the time of initial presentation. This finding is not meant to be a surrogate for a high-quality neurologic exam in all patients with proximal humerus fractures. However, improved knowledge of the specific risk factors for an occult neurologic injury will improve the clinician's ability to accurately diagnose and properly treat proximal humerus fractures and their sequelae.

Read more about this study on PubMed.

Other study authors include Brandon Couch, MD.

Collaborators not affiliated with the University of Pittsburgh include:

Patrick Maher
Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai

Mitchell Fourman
Massachusetts General Hospital