Proximal humeral fractures are common injuries. The management, including surgical intervention, of these fractures varies widely. To review the evidence supporting the various treatment and rehabilitation interventions for proximal humeral fractures. We searched the Cochrane Bone, Joint and Muscle Trauma Group Specialised Register, the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials, MEDLINE, EMBASE and other databases, and bibliographies of trial reports. The full search ended in March 2010. All randomised controlled trials pertinent to the management of proximal humeral fractures in adults were selected. Two people performed independent study selection, risk of bias assessment and data extraction. Trial heterogeneity prevented meta-analysis. Sixteen small randomised trials with 801 participants were included. Bias in these trials could not be ruled out.Eight trials evaluated conservative treatment. One trial found an arm sling was generally more comfortable than a less commonly used body bandage. There was some evidence that 'immediate' physiotherapy compared with that delayed until after three weeks of immobilisation resulted in less pain and potentially better recovery in people with undisplaced or other stable fractures. Similarly, there was evidence that mobilisation at one week instead of three weeks alleviated short term pain without compromising long term outcome. Two trials provided some evidence that unsupervised patients could generally achieve a satisfactory outcome when given sufficient instruction for an adequate physiotherapy programme.Surgery improved fracture alignment in two trials but was associated with more complications in one trial, and did not result in improved shoulder function. Preliminary data from another trial showed no significant difference in complications, quality of life or costs between plate fixation and conservative treatment. In one trial, hemiarthroplasty resulted in better short-term function with less pain and disability when compared with conservative treatment for severe injuries.Compared with hemiarthroplasty, tension-band fixation of severe injuries using wires was associated with a high re-operation rate in one trial. One trial found better functional results for one type of hemiarthroplasty.Very limited evidence suggested similar outcomes from early versus later mobilisation after either surgical fixation (one trial) or hemiarthroplasty (one trial). There is insufficient evidence to inform the management of these fractures. Early physiotherapy, without immobilisation, may be sufficient for some types of undisplaced fractures. It is unclear whether surgery, even for specific fracture types, will produce consistently better long term outcomes.