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Shoulder & Elbow

Surgical treatment of the radial head is crucial for the outcome in terrible triad injuries of the elbow

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To evaluate the outcomes of terrible triad injuries (TTIs) in mid-term follow-up and determine whether surgical treatment of the radial head influences clinical and radiological outcomes.


Follow-up assessment of 88 patients with TTI (48 women, 40 men; mean age 57 years (18 to 82)) was performed after a mean of 4.5 years (2.0 to 9.4). The Mayo Elbow Performance Score (MEPS), Oxford Elbow Score (OES), and Disabilities of the Arm, Shoulder and Hand (DASH) score were evaluated. Radiographs of all patients were analyzed. Fracture types included 13 Mason type I, 16 type II, and 59 type III. Surgical treatment consisted of open reduction and internal fixation (ORIF) in all type II and reconstructable type III fractures, while radial head arthroplasty (RHA) was performed if reconstruction was not possible.


At follow-up the mean MEPS was 87.1 (20 to 100); mean OES, 36.9 (6 to 48); and mean DASH score, 18.6 (0 to 90). Mean movement was 118° (30° to 150°) for extension to flexion and 162° (90° to 180°) for pronation to supination. The overall reoperation rate was 24%, with nine ORIF, ten RHA, and two patients without treatment to the radial head needing surgical revision. When treated with RHA, Mason type III fractures exhibited significantly inferior outcomes. Suboptimal results were also identified in patients with degenerative or heterotopic changes on their latest radiograph. In contrast, more favourable outcomes were detected in patients with successful radial head reconstruction after Mason type III fractures.


Using a standardized protocol, sufficient elbow stability and good outcomes can be achieved in most TTIs. Although some bias in treatment allocation, with more severe injuries assigned to RHA, cannot be completely omitted, treatment of radial head fractures may have an independent effect on outcome, as patients subjected to RHA showed significantly inferior results compared to those subjected to reconstruction, in terms of elbow function, incidence of arthrosis, and postoperative complications. As RHA showed no apparent advantage in Mason type III injuries between the two treatment groups, we recommend reconstruction, providing stable fixation can be achieved.

Cite this article: Bone Joint J 2020;102-B(12):1620–1628.

Correspondence should be sent to Alexander Klug. E-mail:

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