(See also Overview of Fractures.)
Proximal humeral fractures are especially common among older patients. A few patients have axillary nerve damage (reducing sensation over the middle deltoid) or axillary artery damage. Contractures may develop after only a few days of immobilization, particularly in older patients.
Most of these fractures result from a fall on an outstretched arm; less often, a direct blow is involved.
Fractures are classified by the number of parts that result; a part is defined as a key anatomic structure that is displaced (> 1 cm) or angulated (> 45°) in relation to its normal anatomic position. The 4 key anatomic structures of the proximal humerus are the
For example, if no structures are displaced or angulated, the fracture has one part. If one structure is angulated or displaced, the fracture has 2 parts (see figure One- and 2-part fractures of the proximal humerus). Almost 80% of proximal humeral fractures have only one part; they are usually stable, held together by the joint capsule, rotator cuff, and/or periosteum. Fractures with ≥ 3 parts are uncommon.
One-part fractures rarely require reduction; most (almost 80%) are treated with immobilization in a sling, sometimes with a swathe (see figure Joint immobilization as acute treatment: Some commonly used techniques), and early range-of-motion exercises, such as Codman exercises. These exercises are particularly useful for older adults. Because contractures are a risk, early mobilization is desirable, even if alignment is anatomically imperfect.
Fractures with ≥ 2 parts are immobilized, and patients are referred to an orthopedic surgeon. These fractures may require ORIF or placement of a prosthetic joint (shoulder replacement).
Classify proximal humeral fractures based on the number of key humeral structures (anatomic neck, surgical neck, greater tuberosity, lesser tuberosity) that are displaced or angulated.
Almost 80% require only a sling.
Patients, particularly older patients, should start range-of-motion exercises as soon as possible.