Peripheral nerve injuries following gunshot fracture of the humerus
Current best evidence supports observation for peripheral nerve palsies following a fracture of the humerus unless associated with an open fracture. However, the indications for nerve exploration with humerus gunshot fractures are unclear. All patients aged 18 to 89 years who were treated for a gunshot fracture of the humerus at an academic trauma center between 2004 and 2008 were retrospectively reviewed. Patient demographics, fracture characteristics, fracture healing, nerve injury, and intraoperative findings were examined. Twelve patients were identified, of which 6 had nerve palsies at presentation. Three patients had an isolated single nerve palsy, and all recovered spontaneously within 90 days with observation. The other 3 patients had a concomitant brachial artery laceration, and all required a secondary nerve procedure, including 1 primary nerve repair for a near complete transection and 2 re-explorations with neurolysis due to lack of spontaneous recovery by 90 days. Nerve palsies are common after gunshot fractures of the humerus, but nerve transections are uncommon. We observed 1 nerve transection in 12 cases. However, in all 3 cases with a brachial artery injury, a nerve injury required surgical intervention. Subsequently, we recommend continued observation of isolated nerve palsies associated with gunshot fractures of the humerus. However, consider early nerve exploration of palsies when associated with a concomitant vascular injury.