Authors of section

Authors

Harry Hoyen, Simon Lambert, Joideep Phadnis

Executive Editor

Simon Lambert

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Transolecranon approach

1. General considerations

Introduction

This approach involves an osteotomy of the olecranon to give better access to the distal humerus.

There are several described patterns of osteotomy. The most commonly used technique is a distally-based chevron osteotomy as this provides greatest access and has inherent rotational stability.

Problems associated with an olecranon osteotomy can be limited by using a careful and meticulous technique for creating and repairing the osteotomy.

All osteotomy fixations may cause irritation which often needs later hardware removal.

Lines of a planned chevron olecranon osteotomy

An osteotomy should aim for the bare area of the greater sigmoid notch to avoid cartilage damage.

The bare area is a region within the articular surface that is devoid of cartilage. Its size and orientation vary between individuals, but it is commonly identified by the narrowest part of the greater sigmoid notch.

An olecranon osteotomy should aim for the bare area of the greater sigmoid notch to avoid cartilage damage.

2. Skin incision

Make an incision centered on the junction of the middle and distal thirds of the humeral shaft. Avoid placing the incision over the tip of the olecranon. Some surgeons make a straight incision slightly medial or lateral, whereas others prefer a curved incision. The incision ends over the ulnar diaphysis.

Elevate full-thickness fasciocutaneous flaps to protect the cutaneous nerves.

Skin incision for transolecranon approach

3. Ulnar nerve mobilization

Identify the ulnar nerve proximally along the medial border of the triceps.

Release the ulnar nerve through the cubital tunnel up until the first motor branch by incising the flexor-pronator aponeurosis as the nerve passes between the two heads of flexor carpi ulnaris.

Whenever possible, take care to preserve the perineural vessels.

The nerve may be transposed or left in situ according to the surgeon’s preference, but it should be tension free and not in contact with suture material or metalwork at the end of the procedure.

Take care to protect and be mindful of the nerve throughout the entire procedure.

Pitfall: If a vessel loop or sling is used around the nerve, it is recommended to avoid an artery clip on the loop to minimize inadvertent traction on the nerve.
Note: The OR report should clearly describe how the ulnar nerve has been managed and the location of the nerve at the end of the operation.
Ulnar nerve mobilization

4. Osteotomy

Preparing the osteotomy site

Determine the site of the osteotomy by subperiosteal reflection of the anconeus laterally and the ulna head of FCU medially to expose the olecranon.

Clear the bone with a small elevator at the site of the planned osteotomy.

Mark a chevron osteotomy with a distal apex.

Preparing the osteotomy site

Pearl: Preparing for osteotomy fixation

Depending on the method of osteotomy fixation, predrilling for the later fixation may be performed now. For example, if using an intramedullary device, this can be predrilled and tapped to save time at the end of the procedure. For more detail, see the intramedullary fixation.
Predrilling for later osteotomy fixation with intramedullary screw

Pearl: Drilling apex of chevron mark

It is recommended to drill a 2.5 mm bicortical hole at the apex of the chevron mark.
Drilling the apex of the chevron mark
This will prevent notching of the ulna during use of the saw and will prevent the risk of fracture propagation during osteotomy.
The humeral cartilage may be protected by using retractors or a gauze swab.
Drilling the apex of the chevron mark will prevent notching of the ulna during use of the saw and will prevent the risk of fracture propagation during osteotomy

Performing the osteotomy

Use a fine oscillating saw to divide only up to three quarters of the depth of the bone.

Use saline irrigation to avoid overheating of the bone during sawing.

Using a fine oscillating saw to divide only up to three quarters of the depth of the bone

Use an osteotome to complete the osteotomy. Remember that the central ridge of the olecranon, which is strong, will need to be divided deeper, using a narrow-bladed osteotome.

Note: The reason to use an osteotome to complete the osteotomy is to create an uneven fracture surface that better interdigitates during osteotomy repair than a saw cut.

Fracture the subchondral bone by levering the osteotomy apart.

Note: Some surgeons prefer to perform the entire osteotomy with osteotomes rather than with a power saw.
Use of an osteotome to complete the osteotomy

5. Osteosynthesis of the olecranon osteotomy

The olecranon osteotomy should be fixed according to surgeon’s preference. The three main options are:

Options olecranon osteotomy fixation
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