Several studies have demonstrated good short- and intermediate-term outcomes with total elbow arthroplasty (TEA) to treat acute distal humeral fractures. Now, in the September 20, 2017 issue of The Journal of Bone & Joint Surgery, Barco et al. provide data confirming that TEA provides durable pain relief and motion improvements over a minimum of 10 years, albeit with a number of major complications.
Among 44 TEAs performed in elderly patients with and without inflammatory arthritis whom the authors followed for ≥10 years, the mean Mayo Elbow Performance Score was 90.5 points. Five elbows (11%) developed deep infection that required surgical treatment. The revision-free survival rates for elbows with rheumatoid arthritis were 85% at 5 years and 76% at 10 years, while survival rates for elbows without rheumatoid arthritis were 92% at both time points. That difference was not statistically significant, although men in the study were much more likely to experience a revision than women. Twenty-five of the 44 patients died during the long-term follow-up, but the majority of those had their implant in place.
While reporting on these promising long-term revision-free survival rates, Barco et al. emphasize that complications were “frequent and diverse in nature…and have required a reoperation, including implant revision, in 12 of 44 patients.” So, while the good news is that a majority of patients in this situation will die with a useful joint and sound implant, the authors conclude that “surgeons treating this kind of injury should follow their patients over time and should be prepared to manage a wide array of complications using complex techniques.”