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The Van Gorder Approach for Total Elbow Arthroplasty

January 05, 2022

Who: Joseph B. Kahan, MD, MPH; Christopher A. Schneble, MD; Xavier Simcock, MD; Peter J. Evans, MD, PhD; Steven D. Maschke, MD; William Seitz, MD; Kenneth W. Donohue, MD

Journal: Journal of Shoulder and Elbow Surgery

Overview: Surgical management of the triceps during exposure for total elbow arthroplasty (TEA) is critical to a successful outcome. Previously described techniques include elevating the triceps insertion from one side or leaving the triceps insertion attached and dislocating the joint. Another approach to the elbow, first described in 1933 by Willis Campbell, MD, and subsequently modified by George Van Gorder, MD, involves turning down the triceps tendon without disrupting the triceps insertion. This approach offers complete visualization of the joint and provides excellent exposure for TEA. Only the original report of the technique and a small series of patients using this technique for TEA exist in the literature. The goal of this study was to evaluate outcomes of the Van Gorder approach in a large series of patients undergoing TEA.

All patients who underwent TEA from 2008 to 2016 were retrospectively reviewed. Only patients who underwent primary TEA performed through the Van Gorder approach with at least 6 months' follow-up were included for analysis. Patients with prior elbow surgery were excluded. Demographic data, indication for surgery, postoperative range of motion, triceps function, and need for additional surgery were recorded. Prospectively collected visual analog scale (VAS) and Global Health Quality of Life scores were also analyzed.

A total of 53 patients met inclusion criteria. The mean age was 62 years, 81% were female, and the average follow-up was 30.2 months. The most common surgical indications included inflammatory arthritis (47%), osteoarthritis (24%), and fracture (19%). Postoperatively, average elbow arc of motion was an 8°-137°. There was 1 patient (1.89%) who developed failure of their triceps extension mechanism. A total of 10 patients (19%) underwent additional elbow surgery most commonly for superficial wound complications. Preoperative VAS scores decreased significantly, starting at 3 months postoperatively (6.76 to 3.37, P < .001), and remained constant at the 12- and 24-month postoperative visits.

This is the largest study evaluating the Van Gorder surgical approach to the elbow for primary TEA with an average follow-up of 32 months. Overall rates of triceps failure and reoperation are consistent with other approaches for TEA.

Submitted by John Ready on January 05, 2022