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Upper Limb

Total elbow replacement for the management of the ankylosed or fused elbow

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This study reports our experience with total elbow replacement for fused elbows.

Between 1982 and 2004, 13 patients with spontaneously ankylosed elbows were treated with a linked semi-constrained non-custom total elbow implant. The mean age at operation was 54 years (24 to 80). The stiffness was a result of trauma in ten elbows, juvenile rheumatoid arthritis in one, and rheumatoid arthritis in two. The patients were followed for a mean of 12 years (2 to 26) and were evaluated clinically using the Mayo Elbow Performance Score, as well as radiologically.

A mean arc from 37° of extension to 118° of flexion was achieved. Outcomes were good or excellent for seven elbows at final review. Ten patients felt better or much better after total elbow replacement. However, there was a high complication rate and re-operation was required in over half of patients. Two developed peri-operative soft-tissue breakdown requiring debridement. A muscle flap with skin grafting was used for soft-tissue cover in one. Revision was undertaken in one elbow following fracture of the ulnar component. Three patients developed a deep infection. Three elbows were manipulated under anaesthesia for post-operative stiffness. Prophylactic measures for heterotopic ossification were unsuccessful.

Total elbow replacement for the ankylosed elbow should be performed with caution. However, the outcome can be reliable in the long term and have a markedly positive impact on patient function and satisfaction. The high potential for complications must be considered. We consider total elbow replacement to be an acceptable procedure in selected patients with reasonable expectations.

Correspondence should be sent to Professor B. F. Morrey; e-mail: morrey.bernard@mayo.edu

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