Executive Editor: Peter Trafton

Authors: Martin Jaeger, Frankie Leung, Wilson Li

Proximal humerus Extraarticular 2-part, tuberosity, dislocation

back to skeleton


1 Principles top

Shoulder pain and impingement are common with significant prominence of the greater tuberosity. Displacement of greater than 5 mm is currently recommended as the main indication for reduction and fixation.

The biceps tendon may be incarcerated in the fracture.

Use a deltopectoral incision only if the glenohumeral reduction must be open. Otherwise, choose the approach that is closest to the patient's tuberosity fracture.

2 Reduction of the glenohumeral joint top

Reduction of the glenohumeral joint should be performed as an emergency procedure.
There are various techniques to reduce the glenohumeral joint.

  • Combined traction technique
  • Modified Stimson technique

Unless reduction is carried out very soon after dislocation, analgesia or anesthesia are typically necessary. An initial attempt with conscious sedation may succeed. If not, general anesthesia with complete muscle relaxation may be required. If closed reduction is unsuccessful, open reduction may be necessary.

Combined traction technique enlarge

Combined traction technique

The patient is placed supine on a table. The injured arm is pulled longitudinally and, with the help of a second person, laterally as well.
A sheet around the chest may be used for counter-traction.

Modified Stimson technique enlarge

Modified Stimson technique

In the modified Stimson technique the patient is placed prone with the shoulder beyond the lateral edge of the table. A weight is attached to the wrist. Over time the musculature becomes fatigue and/or relaxed so that the humeral head reduces spontaneously, or with gentle manipulation.

The reduction is confirmed by x-ray. enlarge

Confirmation of reduction

The reduction is confirmed by x-ray. One should pay special attention to obtain a true AP view in order to confirm the glenohumeral reduction. Look carefully at the greater tuberosity, and determine its degree of displacement accurately.

3 Reduction and preliminary fixation of the greater tuberosity top

Insert stay sutures through the supraspinatus, and if necessary, the infraspinatus tendon. enlarge

Stay sutures

Insert stay sutures through the supraspinatus, and if necessary, the infraspinatus tendon.

Clean the fracture bed and remove any hematoma. enlarge

Cleaning the fracture bed

Clean the fracture bed and remove any hematoma. Prepare the margin of the fracture by removing or reflecting the periosteum, 2 or 3 mm back from the fracture line.

Reduce the greater tuberosity properly by pulling on the stay suture(s). enlarge


Reduce the greater tuberosity properly by pulling on the stay suture(s). Be careful not to fragment the tuberosity with bone holding clamps.

Once the fragment is at the correct level, rotate the arm so that the fragment can fit anatomically into the bony defect.

Temporarily secure the reduction with 1 or 2 K-wires. enlarge

Preliminary fixation

Temporarily secure the reduction with 1 or 2 K-wires.

4 Fixation top

Fixation techniques enlarge

General considerations

There are several techniques to fix the greater tuberosity. The choice depends on

  • Size of the fragment
  • Bone quality (osteoporosis)
  • Degree of fragmentation

Techniques include:
A) Screw fixation (cannulated or standard screws; with or without washers)
This is mainly indicated for single large fragment with good bone quality.
B) Tension band sutures
Tension band sutures are more secure for patients with osteoporosis or comminution because they can be placed through tendon insertion sites, which may be stronger than the bone itself. The sutures can be placed in patterns that are optimal for stabilizing comminuted fractures.
Distal anchorage of tension band sutures can be through an anterior to posterior drill hole in the humerus (B1), to screws (B2), through suture anchors, or through the lateral cortex of the humerus just distal to the fracture site. Combinations of these techniques are possible.

Lag screw insertion enlarge

Lag screw

Insert a 3.5 mm lag screw. The lag screw should engage the medial cortex, distal to the articular surface. Cannulated screws may also be used.

Note: washers may make the screw heads more prominent and may result in shoulder impingement. Washers may be less problematic with more distally placed screws.

Check the fixation under image intensifier control.

Insertion of a second lag screw enlarge

If possible, insert a second lag screw in order to achieve rotational stability.

Note: make sure to avoid the axillary nerve by placing the second screw rather proximal.

Once the lag screw(s) are inserted, the K-wire(s) used for temporary fixation, and any stay sutures, should be removed.

Suture insertion into rotator cuff tendon enlarge

Tension band suture

The most secure anchorage for a tension band suture is in the rotator cuff tendon, just before it inserts into the bone. Pass the needle parallel to the bone, picking up a good bite of tendon. In osteoporotic patients, these sutures are stronger than when placed through the bone.

Hole drilled into humerus enlarge

Distal anchorage – drill hole
Distal anchorage can be done through a drill hole, typically horizontal.
Use a 2.0 mm drill bit to prepare the drill hole and a suture passer as needed.

Suture passed in figure-of-eight enlarge

The suture is passed, shown here in a figure-of-eight fashion through the bore hole and tied securely. The suture should be passed to stabilized comminution as needed.

Suture passed through a washer enlarge

Distal anchorage - screw
Pass the suture through a washer and the washer over a cortex screw. The screw is then placed into the neck region.
Note: be aware of the axillary nerve when inserting the screw.

Suture tightened and tied enlarge

The suture is then tightened and tied.

Using a screw rather than a drill hole for anchoring has the advantage of less space and a smaller approach required.

Alternative: suture deep to the fragment and over it enlarge

Alternative: intraosseous sutures
Sutures can be placed through the rotator cuff tendon, and around a small tuberosity fragment, so the suture lies deep to the fragment and over it. Distal suture anchorage is here shown with monocortical drill holes, through the humeral cortex distal to the tuberosity fragment. Several such sutures should be placed to increase stability.

Stabilization with K wires enlarge

Once the sutures are placed, the tuberosity fragment is reduced and stabilized with K-wires.

Fixation of fracture with individual sutures enlarge

Then, the sutures are tied individually to secure the fragment.
Option: the sutures could be placed as mattress sutures through the tendon proximal to the tuberosity fragment.
Note the monocortical drill holes through which the sutures are anchored distally.

Insert suture anchors enlarge

Tension band suture with proximal suture anchors

Especially in osteoporotic bone and/or multifragmentary tuberosities, additional suture anchors are helpful. If suture anchors are used, they have to be inserted prior to reduction

The suture anchor is placed directly into the margin of the fracture as close as possible to the articular cartilage.

Passing the sutures through the supraspinatus tendon enlarge

The sutures are then passed through the supraspinatus tendon, close to the medial insertion line of the supraspinatus.

Reduction and preliminary fixation of greater tuberosity enlarge

Reduce the greater tuberosity anatomically and secure it temporarily with one or two K-wires. Tighten and tie the sutures of the suture anchors.

Distal fixation of suture through washer enlarge

Distal fixation is illustrated here to a screw below the tuberosity fragment as shown previously.
Pass the sutures through the washer of a screw inserted in the metaphyseal region distal to the fragment greater tuberosity to anchor the tension ban. Tighten the suture to hold the tuberosity and fragment in place and to counteract the pull of the rotator cuff. Remove the inserted K-wires.

Tension band suturing combined with lag screw fixation enlarge

Combination of lag screw fixation and tension band suturing

The beneficial effect of tension band suturing can be combined with screw osteosynthesis.

Sutures to close rotator cuff interval enlarge

Repair of rotator cuff interval

Place several additional sutures or a running suture to close the lateral portion of the rotator cuff interval between the supraspinatus and subscapularis tendons. Any rotator cuff tear identified should also be repaired.

5 Final check of osteosynthesis top

Carefully check for correct reduction and fixation (including proper implant position and length) at various arm positions. enlarge

Using image intensification, carefully check for correct reduction and fixation (including proper implant position and length) at various arm positions. Ensure that screw tips are not intraarticular.

Also obtain an axial view. enlarge

Also obtain an axial view.

In the beach chair position, the C-arm must be directed appropriately for orthogonal views. enlarge

In the beach chair position, the C-arm must be directed appropriately for orthogonal views. Position arm as necessary to confirm that reduction is satisfactory, fixation is stable, and no screw is in the joint.

v2.0 2011-05-02