Operative versus non-operative treatment of humeral shaft fractures: A systematic review

Harry William Sargeant*, Luke Farrow, Scott Barker, Kapil Kumar

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

18 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Humeral shaft fractures are common but debate still occurs as to whether these are best managed operatively or non-operatively. We sought to undertake a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised and non-randomised studies to clarify the optimal treatment. Methods: We performed a search for all randomised and non-randomised comparative studies on humeral shaft fracture. We included only those with an operative and non-operative cohort in adult patients. We undertook a meta-analysis of the following outcome measures: nonunion, malunion, delayed union, iatrogenic nerve injury and infection. Non-operative management was with a functional brace. Results: Non-operative management resulted in a significantly higher nonunion rate of 17.6% compared to 6.3% with fixation. Operative management had a significantly higher iatrogenic nerve injury rate of 3.4% and infection rate of 3.7%. All nonunions within the included studies went on to union after plate fixation. There was no significant difference in delayed union or patient reported outcome measures. There was a significantly increased risk of malunion with non-operative treatment however this did not correlate with the outcome. Discussion: Our findings suggest that in the majority of cases, humeral shaft fractures can be managed with non-operative treatment, and any subsequent nonunion should be treated with plate fixation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)229-242
Number of pages14
JournalShoulder and Elbow
Issue number4
Early online date2 Feb 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2020

Bibliographical note

The author(s) received no financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.


  • brace
  • fracture fixation
  • fractures ununited
  • humerus
  • surgery
  • treatment outcome


Dive into the research topics of 'Operative versus non-operative treatment of humeral shaft fractures: A systematic review'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this