Journal of Shoulder and Elbow Surgery

Primary radial nerve palsy associated with humeral shaft fractures according to injury mechanism: is early exploration needed?

Published:August 16, 2021DOI:


      Radial nerve palsy is a common complication associated with humeral shaft fractures. The purposes of this study were (1) to evaluate the status of primary radial nerve palsy in patients with humeral shaft fracture according to injury mechanism, (2) to estimate the risk factors of primary RNP, and (3) to evaluate whether early exploration is helpful for radial nerve recovery.


      This study analyzed 162 patients with humeral shaft fractures from January 2014 to December 2019. All patients were surgically treated in our hospital. Of these, 109 high-energy injuries were identified and compared with 53 low-energy injuries. The risk factors of radial nerve palsy were analyzed, and the prevalence of radial nerve palsy and status of radial nerve exploration according to injury mechanism were evaluated. Nerve recovery rate according to early nerve exploration was investigated.


      There were 31 cases of radial nerve palsy among 162 patients: 27 in the high-energy humeral shaft fracture group and 4 in the low-energy humeral shaft fracture group. Logistic regression analysis for risk factors showed that the injury mechanism was significantly associated with primary radial nerve palsy. Among 31 radial nerve palsy patients, 21 radial nerves were explored and 19 radial nerves recovered completely (80.6%). In the high-energy humeral shaft fracture group, 18 radial nerves were explored during surgery among 27 radial nerve palsy cases, and 16 cases recovered (88.9%). The other 9 radial nerves were not explored, and only 5 cases recovered (55.6%).


      This study confirmed that the incidence of radial nerve paralysis was higher in high-energy humeral shaft fractures than in low-energy fractures. The more common fracture patterns were oblique, transverse, wedge, and comminuted in high-energy humeral shaft fracture. This study suggests that these patterns are not directly associated with radial nerve palsy, but that high-energy injury is associated with a specific fracture pattern. Early nerve exploration during surgical treatment in patients with radial nerve palsy associated with humeral shaft fracture was helpful especially after high-energy injury.

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