Background: The choice of surgical or non-surgical treatments for osteochondritis dissecans (OCD) of the humeral capitellum is still controversial. The purpose of this study was to assess the efficacy of fragment fixation for OCD of the humeral capitellum. Methods: We reviewed 28 patients with OCD of the humeral capitellum after a mean follow up of 17 months. All patients were men and mean age was 14 years. Twenty-seven patients had a history of repetitive overuse of the elbow with baseball pitching, one with tennis. Mean duration of overuse of the elbow was four years. All patients had elbow pain and difficulty in throwing, with a mean duration of symptoms for 17 months. The mean arc of flexion before surgery ranged from 11 degrees to 126 degrees. Radiographs of the elbow showed a radiolucent cystic area of the humeral capitellum in one patient, a non-displaced split type fragment in 12 patients, and a slightly displaced split type fragment in 15 patients. Fragment fixation surgery was performed in all patients by lateral arthrotomy including drilling and fixation of the fragment with a double wiring technique using flexible wire or thread under direct vision. Sport activities using upper extremities were restricted for four to six months until the lesion healed in radiograph. Results: Post-operatively, 25 patients had no pain and three decreased pain. Average arc of flexion was one to 132 degrees, an improvement of 16 degrees compared with the pre-operative arc. Radiographic findings showed complete healing of the lesion in 11 patients, partial healing in 12, unchanged in three, and loose body formation in two. By Tivnon's evaluation of the elbow function, results were excellent in 19 patients, good in five, fair in two, and poor in two. The ratio of complete or partial healing of the lesion was 100 percent in 16 patients in whom the thickness of the lesion was less than 9 mm on pre-operative radiograph, and 58 percent in 12 patients in whom the lesion thickness was 9 mm or more, which showed a significant difference (p<0.01). Conclusions: Fragment fixation for OCD of the humeral capitellum was effective in patients whose lesion thickness was less than 9 mm. Fixation by flexible wire or thread and revascularization by drilling for the fragment were considered to be insufficient for large lesions with a thickness of 9 mm or more.
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