Outcomes from Shoulder Fusion Are Durable, Not Spectacular

Shoulder Arthrodesis for OBuzzGlenohumeral arthrodesis is a salvage operation, so most patients and surgeons considering this option don’t have expectations of spectacular functional outcomes. Improving stability and relieving pain are usually the main goals. In the April 4, 2018 edition of The Journal of Bone & Joint Surgery, a retrospective study by Wagner et al. sheds light on long-term results of this procedure (mean follow-up of 12 years) and the patient and surgical factors that might improve or worsen outcomes.

The authors reviewed electronic and paper medical records of 29 cases of glenohumeral arthrodesis performed between 1992 and 2009. They also analyzed patient questionnaires, which included DASH, SSV, and SF-36 scoring instruments.

All patients reported improvement in pain at the time of their latest postoperative follow-up. However, 12 patients (41%) had postoperative complications, including nonunions, fractures, and deep infections. Eleven patients (38%) required additional post-arthrodesis surgical procedures. The mean postoperative shoulder position was 60° in flexion and 13° in external rotation.

The authors identified the following correlations between patient/surgical factors and outcomes:

  • Patients with a history of brachial plexus injuries had worse clinical and functional outcomes.
  • Patients with shoulders fused in abduction and flexion of >25° had better shoulder function but a slightly higher risk of peri-fixation fracture.
  • There were no significant outcome differences between procedures that used plate-and-screw and screw-only fixation. However, incorporation of the acromion in fixation was strongly associated with a lower risk of nonunion.

The authors conclude that despite the limitations of this complex salvage procedure, “its ability to relieve pain and to maintain reasonable upper-extremity function in select patients should not be overlooked.”

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