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Supracondylar Fracture

Supracondylar fractures are the most common elbow fractures in the pediatric population. The most common mechanism of injury involves a fall on an outstretched hand Hand The hand constitutes the distal part of the upper limb and provides the fine, precise movements needed in activities of daily living. It consists of 5 metacarpal bones and 14 phalanges, as well as numerous muscles innervated by the median and ulnar nerves. Hand: Anatomy, resulting in a fracture Fracture A fracture is a disruption of the cortex of any bone and periosteum and is commonly due to mechanical stress after an injury or accident. Open fractures due to trauma can be a medical emergency. Fractures are frequently associated with automobile accidents, workplace injuries, and trauma. Overview of Bone Fractures of the distal humerus Humerus Bone in humans and primates extending from the shoulder joint to the elbow joint. Arm: Anatomy. Patients Patients Individuals participating in the health care system for the purpose of receiving therapeutic, diagnostic, or preventive procedures. Clinician–Patient Relationship frequently present with pain Pain An unpleasant sensation induced by noxious stimuli which are detected by nerve endings of nociceptive neurons. Pain: Types and Pathways, visible deformity Deformity Examination of the Upper Limbs, and limited range of motion Range of motion The distance and direction to which a bone joint can be extended. Range of motion is a function of the condition of the joints, muscles, and connective tissues involved. Joint flexibility can be improved through appropriate muscle strength exercises. Examination of the Upper Limbs of the injured elbow. This fracture Fracture A fracture is a disruption of the cortex of any bone and periosteum and is commonly due to mechanical stress after an injury or accident. Open fractures due to trauma can be a medical emergency. Fractures are frequently associated with automobile accidents, workplace injuries, and trauma. Overview of Bone Fractures often requires immediate orthopedic consultation secondary to the displacement Displacement The process by which an emotional or behavioral response that is appropriate for one situation appears in another situation for which it is inappropriate. Defense Mechanisms of the fracture Fracture A fracture is a disruption of the cortex of any bone and periosteum and is commonly due to mechanical stress after an injury or accident. Open fractures due to trauma can be a medical emergency. Fractures are frequently associated with automobile accidents, workplace injuries, and trauma. Overview of Bone Fractures and the frequency of concomitant neurovascular injury.

Last updated: 16 Mar, 2022

Editorial responsibility: Stanley Oiseth, Lindsay Jones, Evelin Maza

Overview

Definition

A supracondylar fracture Fracture A fracture is a disruption of the cortex of any bone and periosteum and is commonly due to mechanical stress after an injury or accident. Open fractures due to trauma can be a medical emergency. Fractures are frequently associated with automobile accidents, workplace injuries, and trauma. Overview of Bone Fractures affects the distal humerus Humerus Bone in humans and primates extending from the shoulder joint to the elbow joint. Arm: Anatomy, just above the elbow, and is seen frequently in the pediatric population.

Epidemiology

  • 15% of all pediatric fractures
  • Most common pediatric elbow fracture Fracture A fracture is a disruption of the cortex of any bone and periosteum and is commonly due to mechanical stress after an injury or accident. Open fractures due to trauma can be a medical emergency. Fractures are frequently associated with automobile accidents, workplace injuries, and trauma. Overview of Bone Fractures (60%)
  • Peak incidence Incidence The number of new cases of a given disease during a given period in a specified population. It also is used for the rate at which new events occur in a defined population. It is differentiated from prevalence, which refers to all cases in the population at a given time. Measures of Disease Frequency 2–7 years old
  • Nondominant arm Arm The arm, or “upper arm” in common usage, is the region of the upper limb that extends from the shoulder to the elbow joint and connects inferiorly to the forearm through the cubital fossa. It is divided into 2 fascial compartments (anterior and posterior). Arm: Anatomy most often fractured
  • Male predominant

Etiology

  • Falls:
    • Fallen onto an outstretched hand Hand The hand constitutes the distal part of the upper limb and provides the fine, precise movements needed in activities of daily living. It consists of 5 metacarpal bones and 14 phalanges, as well as numerous muscles innervated by the median and ulnar nerves. Hand: Anatomy in 70% of cases
    • < 3 years old: fall from < 1 m (< 3 ft)
      • Changing table
      • Bed
      • Parent’s lap
    • > 3 years old: fall from > 1 m (> 3 ft)
      • Playground structures
  • Direct blows to elbow in older patients Patients Individuals participating in the health care system for the purpose of receiving therapeutic, diagnostic, or preventive procedures. Clinician–Patient Relationship.

Pathophysiology

The distal humerus Humerus Bone in humans and primates extending from the shoulder joint to the elbow joint. Arm: Anatomy‘s supracondylar area in children is made of thin, structurally weak developing bone Bone Bone is a compact type of hardened connective tissue composed of bone cells, membranes, an extracellular mineralized matrix, and central bone marrow. The 2 primary types of bone are compact and spongy. Bones: Structure and Types, making it a common fracture Fracture A fracture is a disruption of the cortex of any bone and periosteum and is commonly due to mechanical stress after an injury or accident. Open fractures due to trauma can be a medical emergency. Fractures are frequently associated with automobile accidents, workplace injuries, and trauma. Overview of Bone Fractures site. 

  • Extension Extension Examination of the Upper Limbs fractures (95%):
    • Fallen onto an outstretched hand Hand The hand constitutes the distal part of the upper limb and provides the fine, precise movements needed in activities of daily living. It consists of 5 metacarpal bones and 14 phalanges, as well as numerous muscles innervated by the median and ulnar nerves. Hand: Anatomy
    • Posterior displacement Displacement The process by which an emotional or behavioral response that is appropriate for one situation appears in another situation for which it is inappropriate. Defense Mechanisms of the elbow
  • Flexion Flexion Examination of the Upper Limbs fractures (5%):
  • 5%–10% of supracondylar fractures are associated with damage to neurovascular structures:
    • Brachial artery Brachial Artery The continuation of the axillary artery; it branches into the radial and ulnar arteries. Cubital Fossa: Anatomy
      • Superior to brachial muscle
      • Injury risk during fracture Fracture A fracture is a disruption of the cortex of any bone and periosteum and is commonly due to mechanical stress after an injury or accident. Open fractures due to trauma can be a medical emergency. Fractures are frequently associated with automobile accidents, workplace injuries, and trauma. Overview of Bone Fractures and reduction, especially with posterolateral displacement Displacement The process by which an emotional or behavioral response that is appropriate for one situation appears in another situation for which it is inappropriate. Defense Mechanisms
    • Median Median After arranging the data from loWest to highest, the median is the middle value, separating the lower half from the upper half of the data set. Measures of Central Tendency and Dispersion nerve:
      • Runs with brachial artery Brachial Artery The continuation of the axillary artery; it branches into the radial and ulnar arteries. Cubital Fossa: Anatomy 
      • Injury risk with a posterolateral displacement Displacement The process by which an emotional or behavioral response that is appropriate for one situation appears in another situation for which it is inappropriate. Defense Mechanisms of the fracture Fracture A fracture is a disruption of the cortex of any bone and periosteum and is commonly due to mechanical stress after an injury or accident. Open fractures due to trauma can be a medical emergency. Fractures are frequently associated with automobile accidents, workplace injuries, and trauma. Overview of Bone Fractures
      • Anterior interosseous nerve (AIN nerve): branch of median Median After arranging the data from loWest to highest, the median is the middle value, separating the lower half from the upper half of the data set. Measures of Central Tendency and Dispersion nerve most commonly injured nerve 
    • Radial nerve Radial Nerve A major nerve of the upper extremity. In humans the fibers of the radial nerve originate in the lower cervical and upper thoracic spinal cord (usually C5 to T1), travel via the posterior cord of the brachial plexus, and supply motor innervation to extensor muscles of the arm and cutaneous sensory fibers to extensor regions of the arm and hand. Axilla and Brachial Plexus: Anatomy: injured with the same frequency as median Median After arranging the data from loWest to highest, the median is the middle value, separating the lower half from the upper half of the data set. Measures of Central Tendency and Dispersion nerve
    • Ulnar nerve Ulnar Nerve A major nerve of the upper extremity. In humans, the fibers of the ulnar nerve originate in the lower cervical and upper thoracic spinal cord (usually C7 to T1), travel via the medial cord of the brachial plexus, and supply sensory and motor innervation to parts of the hand and forearm. Axilla and Brachial Plexus: Anatomy: much less common, may be injured with flexion Flexion Examination of the Upper Limbs type fractures

Classification

Gartland classification is based on the degree of displacement Displacement The process by which an emotional or behavioral response that is appropriate for one situation appears in another situation for which it is inappropriate. Defense Mechanisms:

  • Gartland type 1 Type 1 Spinal Muscular Atrophy: minimally displaced or occult fracture Fracture A fracture is a disruption of the cortex of any bone and periosteum and is commonly due to mechanical stress after an injury or accident. Open fractures due to trauma can be a medical emergency. Fractures are frequently associated with automobile accidents, workplace injuries, and trauma. Overview of Bone Fractures
  • Gartland type 2 Type 2 Spinal Muscular Atrophy: displaced fracture Fracture A fracture is a disruption of the cortex of any bone and periosteum and is commonly due to mechanical stress after an injury or accident. Open fractures due to trauma can be a medical emergency. Fractures are frequently associated with automobile accidents, workplace injuries, and trauma. Overview of Bone Fractures with intact posterior cortex
  • Gartland type 3 Type 3 Spinal Muscular Atrophy: completely displaced fracture Fracture A fracture is a disruption of the cortex of any bone and periosteum and is commonly due to mechanical stress after an injury or accident. Open fractures due to trauma can be a medical emergency. Fractures are frequently associated with automobile accidents, workplace injuries, and trauma. Overview of Bone Fractures with cortical disruption, subtypes based on the direction of displacement Displacement The process by which an emotional or behavioral response that is appropriate for one situation appears in another situation for which it is inappropriate. Defense Mechanisms
  • Gartland type 4 Type 4 Spinal Muscular Atrophy: multidirectional instability with circumferential periosteal disruption; diagnosis made during exam under anesthesia Anesthesia A state characterized by loss of feeling or sensation. This depression of nerve function is usually the result of pharmacologic action and is induced to allow performance of surgery or other painful procedures. Anesthesiology: History and Basic Concepts/intraoperatively
Gartland classification

Gartland classification of supracondylar fractures:
The Gartland classification system of supracondylar elbow fractures is based on the degree of displacement Displacement The process by which an emotional or behavioral response that is appropriate for one situation appears in another situation for which it is inappropriate. Defense Mechanisms of the fractures. Gartland type I is a minimally displaced fracture Fracture A fracture is a disruption of the cortex of any bone and periosteum and is commonly due to mechanical stress after an injury or accident. Open fractures due to trauma can be a medical emergency. Fractures are frequently associated with automobile accidents, workplace injuries, and trauma. Overview of Bone Fractures. Gartland type II features more displacement Displacement The process by which an emotional or behavioral response that is appropriate for one situation appears in another situation for which it is inappropriate. Defense Mechanisms, but the posterior cortex remains intact. Gartland type III is a completely displaced fracture Fracture A fracture is a disruption of the cortex of any bone and periosteum and is commonly due to mechanical stress after an injury or accident. Open fractures due to trauma can be a medical emergency. Fractures are frequently associated with automobile accidents, workplace injuries, and trauma. Overview of Bone Fractures.

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Clinical Presentation and Diagnosis

Supracondylar fractures are the most common type of elbow fracture Fracture A fracture is a disruption of the cortex of any bone and periosteum and is commonly due to mechanical stress after an injury or accident. Open fractures due to trauma can be a medical emergency. Fractures are frequently associated with automobile accidents, workplace injuries, and trauma. Overview of Bone Fractures found in children. These fractures often require emergent treatment secondary to associated neurovascular injuries.

Signs and symptoms

  • Patients Patients Individuals participating in the health care system for the purpose of receiving therapeutic, diagnostic, or preventive procedures. Clinician–Patient Relationship usually present after fallen onto an outstretched hand Hand The hand constitutes the distal part of the upper limb and provides the fine, precise movements needed in activities of daily living. It consists of 5 metacarpal bones and 14 phalanges, as well as numerous muscles innervated by the median and ulnar nerves. Hand: Anatomy or direct trauma Direct Trauma Toddler’s Fractures.
    • Fallen onto an outstretched hand Hand The hand constitutes the distal part of the upper limb and provides the fine, precise movements needed in activities of daily living. It consists of 5 metacarpal bones and 14 phalanges, as well as numerous muscles innervated by the median and ulnar nerves. Hand: Anatomy leads to extension-type injury (97%–99%).
    • Fall onto the posterior elbow can lead to flexion-type injury.
  • Localized pain Pain An unpleasant sensation induced by noxious stimuli which are detected by nerve endings of nociceptive neurons. Pain: Types and Pathways to the supracondylar area with decreased range of motion Range of motion The distance and direction to which a bone joint can be extended. Range of motion is a function of the condition of the joints, muscles, and connective tissues involved. Joint flexibility can be improved through appropriate muscle strength exercises. Examination of the Upper Limbs
  • Often have associated swelling Swelling Inflammation, ecchymosis Ecchymosis Extravasation of blood into the skin, resulting in a nonelevated, rounded or irregular, blue or purplish patch, larger than a petechia. Orbital Fractures, and obvious deformity Deformity Examination of the Upper Limbs of elbow
  • Ecchymosis Ecchymosis Extravasation of blood into the skin, resulting in a nonelevated, rounded or irregular, blue or purplish patch, larger than a petechia. Orbital Fractures and skin Skin The skin, also referred to as the integumentary system, is the largest organ of the body. The skin is primarily composed of the epidermis (outer layer) and dermis (deep layer). The epidermis is primarily composed of keratinocytes that undergo rapid turnover, while the dermis contains dense layers of connective tissue. Skin: Structure and Functions puckering of the anterior aspect of elbow (“ brachialis Brachialis Arm: Anatomy sign”) can indicate neurovascular injury and compartment syndrome Compartment Syndrome Compartment syndrome is a surgical emergency usually occurring secondary to trauma. The condition is marked by increased pressure within a compartment that compromises the circulation and function of the tissues within that space. Compartment Syndrome.

Neurovascular examination

Repetitively evaluate motor Motor Neurons which send impulses peripherally to activate muscles or secretory cells. Nervous System: Histology and sensory Sensory Neurons which conduct nerve impulses to the central nervous system. Nervous System: Histology nerve function and assess for vascular insufficiency Vascular insufficiency Anal Fissure.

  • Neurological exam: 
  • Vascular exam:
    • Evaluate for discoloration, warmth of limb, and capillary refill.
    • Evaluate both radial and ulnar arteries Arteries Arteries are tubular collections of cells that transport oxygenated blood and nutrients from the heart to the tissues of the body. The blood passes through the arteries in order of decreasing luminal diameter, starting in the largest artery (the aorta) and ending in the small arterioles. Arteries are classified into 3 types: large elastic arteries, medium muscular arteries, and small arteries and arterioles. Arteries: Histology.
    • Doppler Doppler Ultrasonography applying the doppler effect, with frequency-shifted ultrasound reflections produced by moving targets (usually red blood cells) in the bloodstream along the ultrasound axis in direct proportion to the velocity of movement of the targets, to determine both direction and velocity of blood flow. Ultrasound (Sonography) may be helpful
    • Cold, pale, pulseless hand Hand The hand constitutes the distal part of the upper limb and provides the fine, precise movements needed in activities of daily living. It consists of 5 metacarpal bones and 14 phalanges, as well as numerous muscles innervated by the median and ulnar nerves. Hand: Anatomy requires immediate surgical evaluation and fracture Fracture A fracture is a disruption of the cortex of any bone and periosteum and is commonly due to mechanical stress after an injury or accident. Open fractures due to trauma can be a medical emergency. Fractures are frequently associated with automobile accidents, workplace injuries, and trauma. Overview of Bone Fractures reduction.
    • May need vascular exploration
    • Approximately 10%–20% of displaced supracondylar fractures present with alterations in vascular status. Fracture Fracture A fracture is a disruption of the cortex of any bone and periosteum and is commonly due to mechanical stress after an injury or accident. Open fractures due to trauma can be a medical emergency. Fractures are frequently associated with automobile accidents, workplace injuries, and trauma. Overview of Bone Fractures reduction can be used to restores perfusion.

Radiographs

  • General considerations:
    • Adequate analgesia Analgesia Methods of pain relief that may be used with or in place of analgesics. Anesthesiology: History and Basic Concepts and immobilization Immobilization Delirium should be done before imaging to prevent further displacement Displacement The process by which an emotional or behavioral response that is appropriate for one situation appears in another situation for which it is inappropriate. Defense Mechanisms and damage. 
    • 2 + views (anteroposterior and lateral) should be obtained: true lateral is essential.
    • Imaging of unaffected side may be done to differentiate between ossification Ossification The process of bone formation. Histogenesis of bone including ossification. Bones: Development and Ossification centers and true fractures in pediatric patients Patients Individuals participating in the health care system for the purpose of receiving therapeutic, diagnostic, or preventive procedures. Clinician–Patient Relationship.
  • Findings on abnormal radiographs:
    • Visible posterior fat pad (a sign of elbow effusion)
    • Wide (sail sign) anterior fat pad
    • Anterior humeral line passes through the anterior 3rd of capitellum or fails to intersect with it because of posterior displacement Displacement The process by which an emotional or behavioral response that is appropriate for one situation appears in another situation for which it is inappropriate. Defense Mechanisms of the distal humerus Humerus Bone in humans and primates extending from the shoulder joint to the elbow joint. Arm: Anatomy.
The baumann angle

The Baumann angle (measured on AP view) assesses the adequacy of the reduction in the coronal Coronal Computed Tomography (CT) plane and may be compared to the contralateral elbow. The Baumann angle is the angle between the line perpendicular to the long axis Axis The second cervical vertebra. Vertebral Column: Anatomy of the humerus Humerus Bone in humans and primates extending from the shoulder joint to the elbow joint. Arm: Anatomy and the line along the lateral condyle physis.

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Potential complications

  • Acute:
    • Vascular compromise
    • Compartment syndrome Compartment Syndrome Compartment syndrome is a surgical emergency usually occurring secondary to trauma. The condition is marked by increased pressure within a compartment that compromises the circulation and function of the tissues within that space. Compartment Syndrome
      • Edema Edema Edema is a condition in which excess serous fluid accumulates in the body cavity or interstitial space of connective tissues. Edema is a symptom observed in several medical conditions. It can be categorized into 2 types, namely, peripheral (in the extremities) and internal (in an organ or body cavity). Edema of soft tissue Soft Tissue Soft Tissue Abscess around fracture Fracture A fracture is a disruption of the cortex of any bone and periosteum and is commonly due to mechanical stress after an injury or accident. Open fractures due to trauma can be a medical emergency. Fractures are frequently associated with automobile accidents, workplace injuries, and trauma. Overview of Bone Fractures resulting in excessive pressure within a closed muscle compartment Closed Muscle Compartment Compartment Syndrome 
      • Results in ischemia Ischemia A hypoperfusion of the blood through an organ or tissue caused by a pathologic constriction or obstruction of its blood vessels, or an absence of blood circulation. Ischemic Cell Damage of muscle and nerve tissue
  • Long term:
    • Development of Volkmann’s ischemic contracture
    • Permanent neurological injury
    • Loss of range of motion Range of motion The distance and direction to which a bone joint can be extended. Range of motion is a function of the condition of the joints, muscles, and connective tissues involved. Joint flexibility can be improved through appropriate muscle strength exercises. Examination of the Upper Limbs of elbow
    • Cubitus varus (gunstock deformity Deformity Examination of the Upper Limbs)

Related videos

Management

Treatment of supracondylar fractures is based on the amount of displacement Displacement The process by which an emotional or behavioral response that is appropriate for one situation appears in another situation for which it is inappropriate. Defense Mechanisms of the fracture Fracture A fracture is a disruption of the cortex of any bone and periosteum and is commonly due to mechanical stress after an injury or accident. Open fractures due to trauma can be a medical emergency. Fractures are frequently associated with automobile accidents, workplace injuries, and trauma. Overview of Bone Fractures.

Clinical Relevance

Additional important pediatric skeletal injuries:

  • Buckle or Torus fracture: fracture affecting growing metaphyseal bone secondary to compression load, where bone buckles or compresses. This fracture is generally considered a stable fracture. Treated by immobilization and has a good prognosis.
  • Greenstick fracture: partial-thickness fracture, which involves complete break of cortex and periosteum on only 1 side of the bone. The condition is termed “greenstick” because the fracture Fracture A fracture is a disruption of the cortex of any bone and periosteum and is commonly due to mechanical stress after an injury or accident. Open fractures due to trauma can be a medical emergency. Fractures are frequently associated with automobile accidents, workplace injuries, and trauma. Overview of Bone Fractures resembles the break in a live “green” twig, where 1 side of the stick remains intact. High risk for refracture and should be completely immobilized. Rarely requires reduction, but should be managed cautiously to prevent malunion Malunion Hip Fractures or angulation Angulation Buckle or Torus Fracture deformities. This fracture Fracture A fracture is a disruption of the cortex of any bone and periosteum and is commonly due to mechanical stress after an injury or accident. Open fractures due to trauma can be a medical emergency. Fractures are frequently associated with automobile accidents, workplace injuries, and trauma. Overview of Bone Fractures often should be referred for orthopedic follow-up.
  • Apophyseal avulsion fracture Fracture A fracture is a disruption of the cortex of any bone and periosteum and is commonly due to mechanical stress after an injury or accident. Open fractures due to trauma can be a medical emergency. Fractures are frequently associated with automobile accidents, workplace injuries, and trauma. Overview of Bone Fractures: apophysis is a secondary ossification center Secondary ossification center Development of the Limbs found in nonweight-bearing segments of bones and is the site of ligament or tendon insertion. Acute apophyseal avulsion fracture Fracture A fracture is a disruption of the cortex of any bone and periosteum and is commonly due to mechanical stress after an injury or accident. Open fractures due to trauma can be a medical emergency. Fractures are frequently associated with automobile accidents, workplace injuries, and trauma. Overview of Bone Fractures occurs when a portion of apophysis is pulled off by ligament, usually secondary to explosive movements and eccentric muscular contractions. This condition is primarily treated conservatively, with rest and pain Pain An unpleasant sensation induced by noxious stimuli which are detected by nerve endings of nociceptive neurons. Pain: Types and Pathways control, but may require surgical repair if a fragment of avulsed bone Bone Bone is a compact type of hardened connective tissue composed of bone cells, membranes, an extracellular mineralized matrix, and central bone marrow. The 2 primary types of bone are compact and spongy. Bones: Structure and Types is large with significant displacement Displacement The process by which an emotional or behavioral response that is appropriate for one situation appears in another situation for which it is inappropriate. Defense Mechanisms

References

  1. Holt JB, Glass NA, Shah AS. (2018). Understanding the Epidemiology of Pediatric Supracondylar Humeral Fractures in the United States: Identifying Opportunities for Intervention. J Pediatr Orthop. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29462120/ 
  2. Lins RE, Simovitch RW, Waters PM. (1999). Pediatric elbow trauma. Orthop Clin North Am. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/9882730/ 
  3. Farnsworth CL, Silva PD, Mubarak SJ. (1998). Etiology of supracondylar humerus fractures. J Pediatr Orthop. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/9449099/ 
  4. Shrader MW. (2008). Pediatric supracondylar fractures and pediatric physeal elbow fractures. Orthop Clin North Am. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18374807/ 

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