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Upper Limb

The contribution of the coronoid and radial head to the stability of the elbow

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We undertook this study to determine the minimum amount of coronoid necessary to stabilise an otherwise intact elbow joint. Regan–Morrey types II and III, plus medial and lateral oblique coronoid fractures, collectively termed type IV fractures, were simulated in nine fresh cadavers. An electromagnetic tracking system defined the three-dimensional stability of the ulna relative to the humerus. The coronoid surface area accounts for 59% of the anterior articulation. Alteration in valgus, internal and external rotation occurred only with a type III coronoid fracture, accounting for 68% of the coronoid and 40% of the entire articular surface. A type II fracture removed 42% of the coronoid articulation and 25% of the entire articular surface but was associated with valgus and external rotational changes only when the radial head was removed, thereby removing 67% of the articular surface.

We conclude that all type III fractures, as defined here, are unstable, even with intact ligaments and a radial head. However, a type II deficiency is stable unless the radial head is removed. Our study suggests that isolated medial-oblique or lateral-oblique fractures, and even a type II fracture with intact ligaments and a functional radial head, can be clinically stable, which is consistent with clinical observation.

Correspondence should be sent to Professor B. M. Morrey; e-mail:

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