Better Surgery for Fractured Elbows | Action Medical Research

Touching Lives - November 2006

Better Surgery for Fractured Elbows

Elbow fractures are very common, and in severe cases may cause an unstable elbow.This instability is difficult to treat and can mean pain, disability and even the early development of arthritis. Also, surgery for elbow fractures may itself lead to elbow instability, as damage may occur to elbow ligaments which hold the bones in position and provide stability to the joint.

A team of researchers at the Wrightington Hospital in Wigan, where Sir John Charnley famously carried out his pioneering work on hip replacement surgery, also with Action Medical Research funding, has developed a new surgical approach to the elbow. Unlike the current treatment, this technique does not separate the elbow ligaments, which are important for elbow stability.

With a grant of just £11,000, the team set out to investigate whether this technique, now known as the Wrightington approach, causes less elbow instability than the current treatment.

Using a laboratory model of an injured human elbow, researchers Professor Stanley and Mr Charalambous compared the two surgical methods and confirmed that with the Wrightington approach, elbows were more stable.This new technique could prove important in managing difficult elbow fractures, and the researchers recommend that the Wrightington approach be routinely used to treat such problems.

The team will now communicate these important findings to other surgeons in the field, and the new generation of elbow surgeons trained by Professor Stanley at the Wrightington Hospital will learn the technique.

Mr Charalambous says, “Elbow instability is a potentially catastrophic complication of elbow surgery.We have shown that the Wrightington approach confers less elbow instability compared to traditional surgical techniques. Action Medical Research has made it possible to show the benefits of a novel surgical technique that can directly influence patients’ lives.”

With grateful thanks to Risley Medical, Research and Charity Trust Fund and Capenhurst Medical and Research Fund for helping to fund this work.

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