Background: Post-traumatic contracture is a common complication after elbow trauma. If conservative therapy fails to restore adequate elbow motion, arthrolysis is indicated. The purposes of this study were to evaluate the clinical outcome of open arthrolysis for post-traumatic elbow contracture and to determine factors influencing the outcome. Methods: Twenty-seven patients with post-traumatic elbow contracture were followed-up after open arthrolysis for at least 12 months. Before surgery, the mean limitation in extension was 30° and the mean maximum flexion was 83°. A posterior surgical approach was used in 18 patients, and a lateral approach was employed in nine patients. Using the posterior approach, the fibrotic posterior capsule was excised and the ulnar collateral ligament was split. Both the anterior and posterior capsules were released with a lateral approach. Results: The mean flexion increased from 83° to 121°, but the mean extension improved little from -30° to -26°. The mean flexion-extension arc increased from 53° to 95°. According to the elbow evaluation score by the Japanese Orthopaedic Association, both pain and function scales improved significantly. By Hertel's subjective evaluation, the results were good in 13 patients, fair in ten patients, and poor in four patients. Twenty-three patients (85 percent) were satisfied with the results, but four were not satisfied because of residual contracture. These poor results were related to severe soft tissue trauma, residual displacement of intra-articular fragments, and recurrence of heterotopic bone formation. Conclusions: Tendon lengthening of stiff triceps, accurate reduction of intra-articular fragmens, and sharp epiperiosteal resection around the heterotopic bones are essential procedures of open arthrolysis to restore adequate motion in post-traumatic elbow contracture.
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