The use of intramedullary devices for adult radial head and neck fractures. A systematic review


Radial head fracture, radial neck fracture, intramedullary fixation, titanium elastic nails

Published online: Aug 12 2023

Robert JORDAN1, Mohammed REMTULLA1, Alistair JONES2, Shahbaz MALIK3, Samuel CHAN1, Gunaratnam SHYAMALAN1

1 University Hospitals Birmingham, England
2 Taunton Hospital, England
3 Worcestershire Acute Hospital NHS Trust, England


The management of isolated radial neck and head fractures is controversial. Plate fixation and tripod fixation are two commonly employed techniques but risk damage to soft tissues and implant-related complications. Intramedullary fixation is commonly used in pediatric cases and reduces the potential drawbacks of open fixation. This systematic review aimed to analyze outcomes of intramedullary fixation in adults in terms of function, union, and complication rates. A systematic review of the literature was conducted following the PRISMA guidelines using Medline and EMBASE’s online databases. The review was registered on the PROSPERO database. Studies were appraised using the Methodological Index for non-randomized studies (MINORS) tool. Seven studies were deemed eligible for inclusion (n=55). Mean ages of patients ranged from 31.3 to 44.2 years, and mean follow-up ranged from 9 to 86 months. The Mayo Elbow Performance score (MEPs) was reported in five case series (mean scores 81.8 -97.9) and the prevalence of excellent results ranged from 71% and 83%. Although 100% of fractures united, the pooled complication rate was 24% (range 0-50%). The most common complications were elbow stiffness (7%), superficial radial nerve neuropraxia (7%), malunion (5%), and AVN (1.8%). No study reported any patients requiring revision surgery. Intramedullary fixation for radial head and neck fractures appears to provide a reliable alternative treatment option in terms of union, range of motion, and functional outcomes. Further robust trials direct comparing against open fixation techniques are required.