On a cold winter night, a 20-year-old female comes into the ED with left arm pain. She was ice skating with friends and fell, striking her arm on the ice. Her only injury is to the left shoulder, and you observe this on her exam:
She is tender over the ecchymotic area, and she refuses to move the shoulder. The AP radiograph demonstrates the following:
What’s the diagnosis and management?
Following closed reduction, you see the following:
What does this finding indicate? What is the treatment?
In our case, with procedural sedation, traction allowed reduction and resolution of skin puckering. X-rays confirm reduction and, after overnight observation, the patient is discharged home with out-patient Orthopedic follow-up.
Brief overview of humerus fractures
Humerus fractures are initially classified as proximal, mid-shaft, or distal fractures. They are often further classified as 2-, 3-, or 4-part fractures based on the Neer classification system.
Most proximal humerus fractures are minimally displaced and may be managed nonoperatively with sling immobilization and early ROM since many proximal humerus fractures occur in elderly patients. Operative management is more likely to be pursued in younger patients with good bone quality, and Orthopedic consultation should be obtained in these cases.
Appropriate imaging of proximal humerus fractures includes three views of the shoulder (AP, scapular Y, and axillary lateral). CT scan may be useful for operative planning. MRI is rarely indicated.
Proximal humerus fractures typically require only sling immobilization. However, familiarity with the coaptation splint is important as a method of immobilization for mid-shaft humerus fractures.
Don’t forget a thorough upper extremity neurological exam, including sensation throughout the arm, and motor function at the elbow, wrist, and hand, as some fractures may affect neurovascular bundles (mid-shaft fractures are associated with radial nerve injury, and surgical neck fractures can involve the brachial plexus).
Take home message
If the skin is bruised or puckered over the fracture, the skin may be trapped in the fracture. This can be reduced in the ED, but Orthopedics should be consulted for this rare and potentially surgical case. Many proximal and mid-shaft humerus fractures can be immobilized and referred for Orthopedic follow-up, but knowledge of fracture classification systems is helpful in determining the urgency of Orthopedic consultation and providing anticipatory guidance to the patient.
Faculty Reviewer: Dr. Jeff Feden
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