Often in life, when there are many potential solutions for a single problem, none of them is found to be universally better than the others. That certainly seems to be the case when it comes to treating type III- and -IV acromioclavicular (AC) joint dislocations. Multiple studies have tried to clarify whether nonoperative or operative management is superior in this relatively common injury, but it is becoming increasingly clear that there is no single “right” answer. Many patients do fine with nonoperative treatment; others report being highly satisfied with an operation.
In the November 21, 2018 issue of The Journal, Murray et al. try to provide further guidance for treating these injuries. They performed a prospective, randomized controlled trial that compared nonoperative treatment with open reduction and tunneled suspensory device fixation among 60 patients with a type-III or type-IV AC joint dislocation. The authors used DASH, OSS, and SF-12 scores to quantify functional differences between the groups at 6 weeks, 3 months, 6 months, and 1 year post-injury. They found that, while the operative group showed improved radiographic alignment of the AC joint compared to the nonoperative group, there were no differences in functional outcomes between the two groups at any time beyond the 6-week mark (at which point the nonoperative group had better outcomes).
Notably, 5 of the 31 patients allocated to nonoperative treatment ended up requesting surgical treatment for the injury because of persistent discomfort (4 patients) or cosmesis (1 patient). Also, not surprisingly, the mean economic expenditure in the fixation group was significantly greater than that in the nonoperative group.
Whether to provide operative or nonoperative treatment for type-III and -IV acromioclavicular joint dislocations is not an easy decision, and it entails multiple factors. While this study evaluates only one modern surgical technique for treating this injury, the data is valuable nonetheless for informing a shared decision-making process to help patients choose the most appropriate treatment for them. The good news is that, whether managed operatively or not, patients tend to improve significantly after these injuries, and after 1 year end up with a shoulder that functions well. The authors conclude that “the routine use of [this surgical procedure] for displaced AC joint injuries is not justified,” and that “treatment should be individualized on the basis of [patient] age, activity level, and expectations.”
Chad A. Krueger, MD
JBJS Deputy Editor for Social Media