Tension band wiring of the olecranon: Is it really a dynamic principle of osteosynthesis?

P. R. G. Brink*, M. Windolf, P. de Boer, S. Brianza, V. Braunstein, K. Schwieger

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


The tension band principle as applied to transverse olecranon fractures fixed by tension band wiring is based on the premise that distraction forces on the outer cortex of the ulna during elbow flexion are converted to compression forces on the articular surface of the olecranon at the fracture site. In view of some clinical outcomes, where hardware failure and secondary dislocations occur, the question arises if the dynamic compression theory is correct. Compressive forces during active flexion and extension after tension band wiring of a transverse osteotomy of the olecranon were measured in 6 fresh frozen human cadaveric models using a pressure-sensor in the osteotomy gap. We could collect 30 measurements during active flexion and 30 during active extension. Active flexion did not cause any compressive forces in the osteotomy gap. Extension with the humerus in an upright position and the elbow actively extended causes some compression (0.37-0.51 MPa) at the articular surface comparing with active flexion (0.2 MPa) due to gravity forces. Posterior, there was no significant pressure difference observed (0.41-0.45 versus 0.36-0.32 MPa) between active flexion and extension. The tension band wiring principle only exists during active extension in a range of 30-1208 of flexion of the elbow. Postoperative exercise programs should be modified in order to prevent loss of compression at the fracture site of transverse olecranon fractures, treated with tension band wiring when the elbow is mobilised.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)518-522
JournalInjury-International Journal of the Care of the Injured
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2013


  • Olecranon fractures
  • Tension band wiring
  • Biomechanical study
  • Treatment


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