Strengthening Our Residency Programs through Robust Research

Residency training is an essential pipeline to keeping the field of orthopaedics strong. As I tell the surgeons in my department, we should always be looking for our replacement. Who is going to carry the flag of orthopaedics after our time has passed?

Research related to education and training helps guide us. Continuing a collaboration between the American Orthopaedic Association’s (AOA) Council of Orthopaedic Residency Directors (CORD) and JBJS, the top abstracts from research presented at the 2019 CORD Summer Conference are now available in an article by Weistroffer and Patt on behalf of the CORD/Academics Committee.

Ten studies are featured, with a number looking at aspects of resident screening and selection. For instance, Pacana et al. evaluated use of the standardized letter of recommendation (SLOR) form; while widely adopted, it may not be a cure-all in evaluating applicants, as most applicants were “highly ranked” or “ranked to match.” Work by Secrist et al. suggests that 59 is the number of programs that medical students should target in order to obtain 12 residency interviews (with previous work showing that the average matched applicant attends 11.5 interviews). Alpha Omega Alpha status was the strongest determinant of an applicant’s interview yield. Crawford et al. surveyed residency applicants to find out which characteristics they felt were important to success in an orthopaedic residency. Hard work, compassion, and honesty made the top-10 list each year.

The importance of diversity within orthopaedics is also echoed in the included research. It is well documented that orthopaedic surgery falls far behind other specialties in this area. Among topics explored: potential differences in descriptive terms used in letters of recommendation for male and female candidates, and perceptions of pregnancy and parenthood during residency. Illustrating the importance of exposure and access to role models in orthopaedics, Samora and Cannada found that 80% of female medical students who received a scholarship to attend the Ruth Jackson Orthopaedic Society/AAOS annual meeting eventually pursued a career in orthopaedic surgery. I agree with the authors, who stated, “We must work on diversifying our field and providing opportunities for women and underrepresented minorities to consider a career in orthopaedics.”

I know we will continue to make positive change as a profession. Moreover, I am convinced that the future of orthopaedics is strong, with many with top-notch candidates ready and able to help shape our path.

Matthew R. Schmitz, MD
JBJS Deputy Editor for Social Media

WALANT Surgery Works for Ankle Fractures

OrthoBuzz previously covered WALANT (wide awake, local anesthesia, no tourniquet) surgery, and we very recently featured a JBJS study about treating ankle fractures in a limited-resource environment. These 2 concepts unite in a JBJS study by Tahir et al., which reports on WALANT surgery for ankle fractures in Pakistan.

WALANT surgery has enjoyed increasingly broad dissemination throughout the world since its popularization by Canadian hand surgeon Don Lalonde. Considering its origins, WALANT has been adopted most enthusiastically by the hand-surgery community, but it has been applied successfully to other anatomic regions. WALANT principles are particularly relevant in settings where anesthetic resources and expertise may be limited, such as hospitals where monitoring equipment that helps ensure safe general anesthesia is not readily available.

Tahir et al. used WALANT during open reduction/internal fixation (ORIF) in 58 patients (average age of 47 years) with a distal fibula fracture; 62% of those fractures were OTA-classified as 44C2. Among the excellent results in this cohort were a mean intraoperative VAS pain score of 1.24 and a mean operative time of <1 hour. These findings point to the potential for safely using WALANT techniques during ORIF of other fracture types.

The authors emphasize, however, that “each patient should be individually assessed by the operating surgeon,” not only for injury characteristics that contraindicate WALANT, such as substantial swelling, but also for anxiety and psychological disorders. Consequently, Tahir et al. recommend that surgeons undertaking WALANT procedures have a backup anesthetist available so they can convert to general anesthesia in cases of patient anxiety.

Marc Swiontkowski, MD
JBJS Editor-in-Chief

Cost-Effectiveness of Endoscopic vs Open Carpal Tunnel Release

Carpal tunnel release (CTR) is one of the most common upper-extremity procedures, with excellent outcomes and lasting benefits. When comparing the surgical options of open versus endoscopic CTR, studies have noted higher rates of transient nerve injury but lower risk of wound problems after endoscopic release. Long-term clinical outcomes appear to be similar between the 2 techniques.

What about the associated costs? This is a multidimensional question of particular relevance given the high economic impact of carpal tunnel syndrome, a leading cause of lost work time. Barnes et al. shed new light on the cost-effectiveness of endoscopic versus open CTR in a recent JBJS report, offering a look from societal and payer perspectives. In this cost-effectiveness analysis, the authors developed a Markov model to evaluate unilateral open versus endoscopic CTR in an office setting with local anesthesia and an operating room (OR) setting under monitored anesthesia care. Comprehensive outcomes data from published meta-analyses helped to inform the modeling, while the costs of CTR, performed from 2012 to 2016, were obtained from a large Medicare claims database.

The authors note that, with complications rates being relatively balanced between the 2 techniques, and differences in quality-adjusted life-years being small (<1 quality-adjusted life-day), “procedural and lost-productivity costs primarily drove the results.” (The model assumed 8.21 fewer days of missed work after endoscopic CTR.) Health-care costs are larger for endoscopic CTR, but “the impact of lost productivity was important.” For instance, endoscopic release in the OR setting becomes cost-effective if the patient’s expected return to work is even 1.2 days earlier than that following open CTR in the OR. However, because of the lower costs of performing open CTR in the office setting, endoscopic CTR in the OR is cost-effective only if the expected return to work is at least 3.9 days earlier than that following open CTR in the office.

Overall, the authors concluded that, from a payer perspective, endoscopic CTR is more expensive than open CTR and only becomes truly cost-effective if performed in an office setting under local anesthesia. However, from a societal perspective, earlier return to work may help tip the scales in favor of endoscopic release. The authors caution that additional research is needed to confirm their findings based on the latest surgical techniques and return-to-work protocols.

Matthew R. Schmitz, MD
JBJS Deputy Editor for Social Media

Click here for a JBJS Clinical Summary on the treatment of carpal tunnel syndrome.

What’s New in Pediatric Orthopaedics 2021

Every month, JBJS publishes a review of the most pertinent and impactful studies published in the orthopaedic literature during the previous year in 14 specialty areas. Click here for a collection of all such OrthoBuzz Guest Editorial summaries.

This month, co-author Lindsay M. Andras, MD summarizes the 5 most compelling findings from the >80 studies highlighted in the most recentWhat’s New in Pediatric Orthopaedics.”

Anterior Vertebral Body Tethering vs Spinal Fusion

–Motion-sparing approaches to scoliosis treatment are attracting increased interest. An informative retrospective study compared 2 to 5-year outcomes of anterior vertebral body tethering (AVBT, 23 patients) and posterior spinal fusion (26 patients) in the treatment of adolescent idiopathic scoliosis. Curve correction was significantly better in the posterior fusion group (mean curve magnitude of 16° vs 33° in the AVBT group). Posterior fusion also demonstrated a revision rate of 0%, while a revision rate of 39% was found for AVBT (9 of 23), with 12 patients (52%) showing evidence of tether breakage.

Antibiotic Regimens for Osteoarticular Infection

–While osteomyelitis is often treated with a 4 to 6-week course of intravenous (IV) antibiotics, intriguing results were reported in a study examining the data of 74 patients before and after the initiation of early transition to oral antibiotics for osteoarticular infection1. In the early transition group, which received IV antibiotics for a median of 7 days, no return ED visits or readmissions were reported. Of note, this approach also appeared to stave off complications related to the peripherally inserted central catheters, which necessitated a return to the ED for 16% of the patients who received the longer course of IV antibiotics.

Developmental Dysplasia of the Hips

–What is the long-term likelihood of total hip arthroplasty (THA) when closed reduction or open reduction and Salter innominate osteotomy is used for the treatment of developmental dysplasia of the hips (DDH) in children after walking age? A comparative analysis of hip survival at 45 years showed that both open and closed reduction “provided substantial benefit relative to the natural history of DDH,” but THA is the expected outcome in middle adulthood, particularly for bilateral hips managed with closed reduction after the age of 18 months.

Legg-Calvé-Perthes Disease

–A case-series report noted “predictable radiographic healing and marked clinical improvement” after open reduction and surgical fixation (ORIF) of symptomatic osteochondritis dissecans lesions seen as sequelae to Legg-Calvé-Perthes disease2. Mean follow-up was 4.6 years.

Pediatric Syndactyly Reconstruction

–Synthetic dermal substitute shows merit as an alternative to skin grafting in syndactyly reconstruction, as found in a recent study3. Of 21 webs, normal vascularity was noted in 20, normal pigmentation in 17, normal skin pliability in 13, and flat scar height in 15, with no complications observed. Of note, a small sheet of synthetic dermal substitute costs approximately $350.


  1. Islam S, Biary N, Wrotniak B. Favorable outcomes with early transition to oral antibiotics for pediatric osteoarticular infections. Clin Pediatr (Phila). 2019 Jun;58(6):696-9. Epub 2019 Feb 8.
  2. Lamplot JD, Schoenecker PL, Pascual-Garrido C, Nepple JJ, Clohisy JC. Open reduction and internal fixation for the treatment of symptomatic osteochondritis dissecans of the femoral head in patients with sequelae of Legg-Calvé-Perthes disease. J Pediatr Orthop. 2020 Mar;40(3):120-8.
  3. Wall LB, Velicki K, Roberts S, Goldfarb CA. Outcomes of pediatric syndactyly repair using synthetic dermal substitute. J Hand Surg Am. 2020 Aug;45(8):773.e1-6. Epub 2020 Feb 13.

Sustainable Trauma Care in Low-Resource Settings: How Can We Help?

Orthopaedic colleagues who live and practice in low-resource areas around the world have clearly voiced that they want support from better-resourced partners. But such efforts must be sustainable, a key point emphasized by Woolley et al. in their thought-provoking 2019 JBJS “What’s Important” essay regarding orthopaedic care in Haiti. In contrast to “medical missions” offering short-term assistance for a small number of patients, longer-term systemwide gains come from partnerships focused on education and training that acknowledge the central role of local orthopaedic practitioners in addressing the ongoing needs of their patients.

Along those lines, Agarwal-Harding et al. describe a 3-phase pathway for improving ankle-fracture management in sub-Saharan Malawi in their recent JBJS report. In the first 2 phases, the local knowledge base and treatment strategies were assessed. (Greater than 90% of orthopaedic trauma care in the country is provided by nonphysician “clinical officers,” and most ankle-fracture management in Malawi is nonoperative because there is only about 1 orthopaedic surgeon per 1.9 million Malawians). A team of Malawian and US faculty then designed and implemented an education course that reviewed ankle anatomy, fracture classification, and evidence-based treatment guidelines. From that arose standardized protocols to improve fracture-care quality and safety in the face of limited resources.

While these protocols were unique to the Malawian context, I am convinced that similar interventions can be adapted for other low-resource environments—as long as local clinicians are part of the process. With such a flexible and sustainable program in place, efforts can then be directed toward the advancement of surgical skills and development of cost-effective supply chains. We should all support such efforts worldwide, recognizing that the burden of musculoskeletal trauma is a public health issue warranting collaborative solutions with lasting impact.

Marc Swiontkowski, MD
JBJS Editor-in-Chief


Click here for a related OrthoBuzz post about trauma care in Malawi.

Better 24-Hour Pain Control with Periarticular vs. IV Steroids in TKA

Corticosteroids are commonly used in total knee arthroplasty (TKA) to reduce pain and prevent nausea. But are the effects of steroids different when administered locally rather than systemically? Hatayama et al. investigate this question in JBJS, where they report on a randomized controlled trial comparing periarticular injection with intravenous (IV) administration of corticosteroids. The authors assessed the drugs’ effects on pain control, the prevention of postoperative nausea, and inflammation and thromboembolism markers following TKA.

The 100 included patients were 50 to 85 years of age and underwent primary, unilateral TKA for osteoarthritis. Fifty patients were randomized to the intravenous group (10 mg dexamethasone IV 1 hour pre- and 24 hours postoperatively, along with periarticular placebo injection during the procedure), and 50 were randomized to the periarticular injection group (a 40-mg injection of triamcinolone acetonide during surgery, along with IV placebo 1 hour pre- and 24 hours postoperatively).

Patients in the periarticular injection group experienced better pain control at 24 hours postoperatively, both at rest and during walking. The antiemetic effect was similar and notable in both groups. The IV group showed a better anti-thromboembolic effect, as measured by prothrombin fragment 1.2 levels, but the incidence of deep venous thrombosis was low overall, each group having only 2 cases.

The authors also reported that, at 24 and 48 hours, interleukin-6 levels did not differ between the groups, while C-reactive protein (CRP) levels were significantly lower in the IV group. In contrast, 1 week after surgery, patients in the periarticular group had a significantly lower CRP. These inflammatory-marker findings lead Hatayama et al. to postulate that “the better [24-hour] pain control in the periarticular injection group was not because of reduced inflammation,” and they note that locally administered corticosteroids directly inhibit signal transmission in nociceptive fibers.

Life Expectancy Informs Choice of Hemi Implant after Femoral Neck Fracture

Predicting life expectancy is not an exact science. But estimating the remaining years of life in elderly patients with a femoral neck fracture may help orthopaedists determine whether to use unipolar or bipolar hemiarthroplasty components when surgically managing that population. So suggest Farey et al. in the February 3, 2021 issue of The Journal of Bone & Joint Surgery.

The relevant “magic number” for life expectancy after femoral neck fracture is 2.5 years. The authors arrived at that number by performing statistical analyses on nearly 63,000 cases of femoral neck fractures treated with either modular unipolar or bipolar hemiarthroplasty. Patients were in their early 80s on average at the time of surgery. The researchers focused on revision rates because reoperations in this vulnerable group of patients typically yield poor results.

There was no between-group difference in overall revision rate within 0 and 2.5 years after the procedure. However, unipolar hemiarthroplasty was associated with a higher overall revision rate than bipolar hemiarthroplasty beyond 2.5 years after surgery (hazard ratio [HR], 1.86).

Farey et al. also drilled down into reasons for revision and found that unipolar prostheses had a greater risk of revision for acetabular erosion, particularly in later postoperative time periods. Conversely, bipolar hemiarthroplasty was associated with a higher risk of revision for periprosthetic fracture, which the authors surmise might have arisen from the greater range of motion (and therefore activity levels) permitted by bipolar implants.

Although the authors did not perform a formal cost-benefit analysis related to this dilemma, they observed a nearly $1,000 USD price difference between the most commonly used bipolar and unipolar prostheses. Farey et al. therefore propose that the more expensive bipolar prosthesis may be justified for patients with a life expectancy beyond 2.5 years, but that the unipolar design is justified for patients with a postoperative life expectancy of ≤2.5 years.

Click here to listen to a 15-minute OrthoJOE podcast about this topic, featuring JBJS Editor-in-Chief Dr. Marc Swiontkowski and OrthoEvidence Editor-in-Chief Dr. Mo Bhandari.

Click here to see a 3-minute Video Summary of this study.

Click here to read a JBJS Clinical Summary comparing total hip arthroplasty with hemiarthroplasty for displaced femoral neck fractures.

Surgical-Technique Videos Focus on Pediatric Fractures

Many orthopaedic surgeons who take emergency-department or trauma call are confronted with a pediatric patient presenting with a fracture. However, very few of those orthopaedists are pediatric subspecialists. In fact, Geisinger researchers recently reported that the median number of pediatric orthopaedists per state in the US is only 23 (range 0 to 134).

To address these demographic realities, JBJS Essential Surgical Techniques has launched a video-based, point-of-care resource to help any orthopaedic surgeon manage the most common pediatric fractures with the highest level of quality, helping ensure excellent outcomes for young patients and their parents. Most of the authors of these pediatric-focused procedural videos are members of CORTICES—a collaboration of pediatric orthopedic surgeons dedicated to improving the management of emergent orthopedic conditions through education, research, and development of optimal care guidelines.

Here are links to the 5 already-published video articles in this series:

Upcoming videos in this special series will cover the following 5 topics:

  • Screw Fixation of Pediatric Proximal Tibial Tubercle Fractures
  • Reduction and Internal Screw Fixation of Transitional Ankle Fractures
  • Flexible Intramedullary Nailing of Pediatric Femur Fractures
  • Intramedullary Fixation of the Ulna for Monteggia Fracture Management
  • Open Reduction and Internal Fixation of Pediatric Medial Epicondyle Humerus Fractures

JBJS Essential Surgical Techniques is the premier online journal describing how to perform orthopaedic surgical procedures, verified by evidence-based outcomes, vetted by peer review, and utilizing video to optimize the educational experience, thereby enhancing patient care.

Day-of-Surgery Post-op Talks with Patients Worth the Effort

Personal communication goes a long way in establishing and cementing surgeon-patient relationships. I learned years ago that something as simple as giving patients my email address diminished their fear and anxiety because it gave them direct access to me. Now, due largely to the recent pandemic, more numerous and sophisticated forms of “telemedicine” have come to the forefront of health-care delivery.

In the February 3, 2020 issue of The Journal, Kingery et al. report results from a randomized controlled trial investigating whether brief day-of-surgery communications between surgeons and patients who underwent an outpatient sports-medicine procedure affected patient satisfaction scores. To find out, the researchers randomized 3 surgeons into 1 of 3 patient-communication modalities:

  1. No contact (standard of care)
  2. Phone call the evening after surgery
  3. Video call the evening after surgery

Satisfaction among the 250 participating patients was assessed at the first face-to-face postoperative visit using the standardized S-CAHPS questionnaire, which evaluates patient experiences before, during, and after an outpatient surgery. Patients also completed a 9-item questionnaire specifically designed for this study. The authors focused on the rate of “top-box” responses (the highest rating possible) in each of the 3 groups group.

Kingery et al. found that day-of-surgery postoperative communication between patients and surgeons, either by video or phone, significantly improved S-CAHPS top-box response rates relative to the no-contact group. Specifically, phone calls were associated with a 16.1 percentage point increase in the top-box response rate, while video calls were associated with a 17.8 percentage point increase. The authors also found that patients contacted by video or phone were more likely to recommend their surgeon and felt more informed than those who were not contacted.

Although the authors did not record the content or duration of the conversations in the 2 contact groups, these data strongly suggest that patients welcome day-of-surgery communication—and that such encounters improve patient satisfaction. I therefore think we all should consider leveraging technology, especially that which has arisen from the COVID pandemic, to help give our patients a better overall health-care experience. A few non-reimbursable minutes at the end of the day could have lasting, positive effects on both patients and us.

Matthew R. Schmitz, MD
JBJS Deputy Editor for Social Media

Micromotion Followed by Rigid Fixation Boosts Fracture Healing

Mechanical factors undoubtedly play a role in the rate and quality of fracture healing. For example, the seminal work on fracture strain by the late Stephan Perren, MD helped us understand that the larger the overall fracture area, the lower the fracture strain—and that less strain encourages fracture union.

But with the variety of fracture planes and orientations, different energies imparted to produce the fracture, and multiple patient factors such as bone density, the best approaches by which to positively influence fracture-healing mechanics are still being investigated. We do know that motion mechanics come into play for nonsurgically stabilized fractures in our patients.

In the February 3, 2021 issue of The Journal, Glatt et al. provide more data on the role of micromotion in fracture healing. The authors created a 2-mm transverse tibial osteotomy in 18 goats and then used an external fixator to achieve static, rigid fixation in 6 of the osteotomized tibiae. Six other tibiae were treated with a fixator that allowed 2 mm of controlled axial micromotion for the 8-week duration of the experiment. (This so-called dynamization technique was championed more than 30 years ago by Fred Behrens, MD, who established that inducing micromotion helps stimulate maturation of fracture callus.) The remaining 6 tibiae were initially treated with dynamization, followed by rigid fixation during weeks 4 through 8—a technique known as reverse dynamization. The experimental groups simulated 3 different versions of cast or brace immobilization without surgery.

Using radiographs, micro-CT data, and torsion testing, the investigators found that, after 8 weeks, bones in the reverse-dynamization group were significantly stronger and showed more characteristics of intact, contralateral tibiae than the treated bones in the other 2 groups. I agree with the authors’ conclusion that their results “may have important consequences regarding our understanding of the optimum fixation stability necessary to maximize the regenerative capacity of bone-healing clinically.” With this experiment, Glatt et al. have added another important piece to the puzzle that Drs. Perren and Behrens started solving many years ago.

Marc Swiontkowski, MD
JBJS Editor-in-Chief