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Rotator Cuff Repair Integrity is Important

Supraspinatus Tear for OBuzzAmong the estimated 250,000 surgical rotator cuff repairs performed annually in the US, a growing percentage are being done on younger patients to prevent tear propagation and tissue degeneration. But how durable are the outcomes of those procedures?

In the August 16, 2017 issue of The Journal, Collin et al. report the 10-plus-year results of surgical repair of isolated supraspinatus tears. In this rather large cohort (288 patients with an average age of 57 years evaluated clinically, with 210 of those also evaluated with MRI), complications were not uncommon at 10.4%. On a more positive note, the average Constant score improved from about 52 before surgery to 78 at 10 years after surgery. The 10-year Constant scores correlated with MRI-determined repair integrity but were inversely associated with preoperative fatty infiltration of the supraspinatus.

These findings imply that careful patient selection based on both clinical factors and imaging studies is critically important in identifying patients with the best chance for good, long-term functional results. The presence of a cuff tear, particularly a large chronic one, is not always a surgical indication for repair. For example, Collin et al. found that the rate of retears was significantly higher in patients >65 years old than in those who were younger.

As is frequently the case in orthopaedics, we need additional prospective research with long-term functional and anatomic repair outcomes to better understand which patients are most likely to benefit from early repair of an isolated supraspinatus tear.

Marc Swiontkowski, MD
JBJS Editor-in-Chief

Patient Decision Aids Work in Orthopaedics

patient decision aid image for obuzz.jpgDemographic reality dictates that orthopaedic surgeons will be under ever-increasing pressure to serve aging patients. This explosion in the need for diagnostic and treatment services calls for engaged and informed patients to work with physicians in a shared decision-making process.

In the August 2, 2017 issue of The Journal, Sepucha et al. document the positive impact that patient decision aids—succinct presentations of treatment options and their attendant risks and benefits—have in shared decision making for hip, knee, and spinal complaints. In this prospective cohort study focused on routine orthopaedic care, the authors show that decision aids lead to higher knowledge scores among patients, greater patient involvement in shared decision making, lower surgical rates, and better patient-experience ratings.

The quality of available decision aids is generally excellent, and they are typically more evidence-based than information patients can locate on the Internet. In this time when orthopaedic surgeons are evaluating higher volumes of patients, these tools can inform patients before or after they interact with their orthopaedist. In addition to providing everyday-language explanations of clinical benefits and risks, these aids help individual patients align their health-care decisions with their personal values, needs, and lifestyles. I hope that these tools will find increasing use over the next 5 to 10 years in the orthopaedic practice environment.

Marc Swiontkowski, MD
JBJS Editor-in-Chief

Where Does the Blood Flow in the Femoral Head?

Femoral Head Vasculature.jpegOsseous vascular anatomy has always been clinically relevant to orthopaedists, but its importance is sometimes overlooked. In the July 19, 2017 issue of The Journal, Rego et al. provide a precise topographic map of arterial anatomy in and around the femoral head.

Ever since Trueta’s classic work published in the British volume of JBJS in 1953, we’ve known that the terminal branches of the medial femoral circumflex system (also known as the lateral epiphyseal artery complex) supply blood to the majority of the femoral head. This information has proved critical in supporting treatment decisions for the management of femoral head and neck fractures. In those cases, surgeons typically perform ORIF through an anterior approach because it is remote from this posterior vascular supply.

The details in the Rego et al. study will help today’s and tomorrow’s arthroscopists more safely manage acetabular labral tears associated with cam deformities. In those settings, when increasing the “offset” across the femoral neck to decrease impingement, surgeons should limit the depth of bone removal to avoid injury to this important vascular network. Thanks to this study, operating surgeons now have precise anatomic information (albeit derived from non-deformed cadaver hips) with which to limit the risks of increasing the femoral head offset.

Marc Swiontkowski, MD
JBJS Editor-in-Chief

Remove or Retain the PCL in TKA?

Posterior Stabilized Knee for OBuzz.jpegIn the world of total knee arthroplasty (TKA), the arguments about retaining the posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) versus stabilizing the knee with posterior-stabilized components have raged for more than 30 years. The number of cohort studies and controlled trials attempting to clarify the issue have been too high to count. In the July 5, 2017 issue of The Journal, Vertullo et al. use the power of the Australian national joint registry to add additional important clinical information to the debate.

More than 62,000 TKA cases formed the substrate of this analysis. In a study-design twist, the revision-related outcomes were analyzed on the basis of the preference surgeons had for the two different design options, not on the basis of which prostheses were actually used. Consequently, there was a likelihood that the cohort of patients treated by surgeons who had a preference for posterior-stabilized designs would include some PCL-retained cases, and vice-versa. The authors claim that this “instrumental variable analysis” has “the capacity to remove the confounding by indication or disease severity against posterior-stabilized total knee replacements.” However, as with any registry study, there were still many confounding variables that could have influenced the revision rate, not the least of which is surgeon skill in component alignment and ligament tensioning.

Nevertheless, with selection bias minimized, Vertullo et al. found a real difference in revision rates favoring retention of the PCL. That finding does make biomechanical sense to this non-arthroplasty surgeon, who would expect less stress on the tibial component-bone interface at the extremes of knee motion with the PCL-retaining procedure.

Biomechanics notwithstanding, I think this very large registry-based arthroplasty study will influence the debate going forward, but I doubt it will end the debate or that it will change the TKA practices of many surgeons worldwide. For a more definitive and potentially practice-changing resolution to this clinical conundrum, we’ll need a very large (2,000 to 3,000 patients in each arm) international trial where surgeons and patients accept randomization between these two choices.

Marc Swiontkowski, MD
JBJS Editor-in-Chief

Does Hip Arthroscopy Really Help?

Menge_Image_for_O'Buzz.pngOver the past 15 to 20 years, the use of arthroscopic procedures for hip pathologies has rapidly increased. Leaders in sports medicine have standardized many arthroscopic techniques, including methods of joint distraction, portal location, approaches to labral repair or debridement, and management of cartilage lesions.

Many in the orthopaedic community have wondered whether this expansive  use of  hip arthroscopy is justified by significant improvement in patient function or is simply a first (and perhaps overused) step toward inevitable hip arthroplasty. To help answer that question, in the June 21, 2017 issue of The Journal, Menge et al. document the 10-year outcomes of arthroscopic labral repair or debridement in 145 patients who originally presented with femoroacetabular impingement (FAI).

Whether these patients were treated with debridement or repair, their functional outcomes and improvement in symptoms were excellent over the 10-year time frame, and the median satisfaction score (10) indicates that these patients were very satisfied overall. However, as seen in other similar studies in the peer-reviewed literature, the results in older patients with significant cartilage injury or radiographic joint space narrowing were inferior, and most of the patients with these characteristics ended up with a hip replacement.

The Menge et al. study helps confirm that arthroscopic repair or debridement in well-selected FAI patients yields excellent longer-term outcomes, and it provides concrete criteria for patient selection.

Marc Swiontkowski, MD
JBJS Editor-in-Chief

Good Outcomes with After-Hours Hip Fracture Surgery

marc-swiontkowski-2In the June 7, 2017 issue of The Journal of Bone & Joint Surgery, Pincus et al. report on a careful analysis comparing outcomes from hip fracture surgery occurring “after hours” (defined by the authors as weekday evenings between 5 PM and 12 AM) with surgeries occurring during “normal hours” (weekdays from 7 AM to 5 PM). In the busy Ontario trauma center where this study was performed, it is common for patients with blunt trauma to take precedence over seniors who are relatively stable but in need of hip fracture care.

Pincus et al. found that adverse outcomes, in terms of surgical and medical complications, were similar whether the hip surgery occurred during normal hours or after hours.  Interestingly, there was a higher rate of inpatient complications in the normal-hours group, and fewer patients in the after-hours group were discharged to a rehab after surgery than in the normal-hours group.

It has been my impression that highly skilled professional surgeons and their teams are going to put forward their best efforts for all patients—no matter what time of day or night they operate. Concentration, focus, and high standards can generally overcome fatigue. However, the Pincus et al. study should not be viewed as justification for hospital decision makers to forget their commitment to optimize management of all resources, including surgical teams. After-hours care should never become “routine,” and there should be continuous attention on developing alternative solutions, such as moving elective surgery to other facilities or true shift scheduling that provides all members of the team with occasional daytime hours off for rest and management of personal lives.

The authors note that in their Canadian jurisdiction, there are hospital and surgeon-reimbursement incentives that may work to promote after-hours surgery, but the long-term focus must always put patient outcomes first. And we must always remember that good patient outcomes rely on maintaining surgical teams who are experienced and not burnt out.

Marc Swiontkowski, MD
JBJS Editor-in-Chief

The Opioid Epidemic: Consequences Beyond Addiction

knee-spotlight-image.pngThe orthopaedic community worldwide—and especially those of us in the US, the nation most notorious for over-prescribing—has become very cognizant of the epidemic of opioid abuse. Ironically, the current problem was fueled partly by the “fifth vital sign” movement of 10 to 20 years ago, when physicians were encouraged (brow-beaten, in my opinion) to increase the use of opioid medications to “prevent” high pain scores.

Researchers internationally are now pursuing clarification on the appropriate use of these medications. The societal consequences of opioid addiction, which all too often starts with a musculoskeletal injury and/or orthopaedic procedure, have been well documented in the social-science and lay literature. In the May 17, 2017 issue of The Journal, Smith et al. detail an additional consequence to the chronic use of opioid drugs—the negative impact of preoperative opioids on pain outcomes following knee replacement surgery.

Approximately one-quarter of the 156 total knee arthroplasty (TKA) patients analyzed had had at least one preoperative opioid prescription.  Patients who used opioids prior to TKA obtained less pain relief from the operation than those who had not used pre-TKA opioids. The authors also found that pain catastrophizing was the only factor measured that was independently associated with pre-TKA opioid use.

To be sure, we need to disseminate this information to the primary care community so they will be more judicious about prescribing these medications for knee arthritis. Additionally, knee surgeons should consider working with primary care providers to wean their TKA-eligible patients off these medications, with the understanding that chronic use preoperatively compromises postsurgical pain relief and functional outcomes.

We have previously published in The Journal the fact that the use of opioids is largely a cultural expectation that varies by country; physicians outside the US often achieve excellent postoperative pain management success without the use of these medications. My bottom line: We must continue to press forward to limit the use of opioid medications in both pre- and postoperative settings.

Marc Swiontkowski, MD
JBJS Editor-in-Chief

Humeral Stem Retention in Revision Shoulder Arthroplasty

Reverse TSA for O'Buzz.jpegShoulder surgery for complex conditions such as irreparably large rotator cuff tears has been revolutionized by the concept of reverse total shoulder arthroplasty (rTSA). Improved design of rTSA implants by multiple manufacturers has resulted in excellent functional outcomes from these procedures. I have been educated by my shoulder colleagues to the fact that primary rTSA is actually technically less demanding than primary anatomic TSA because of greater exposure of the scapula/ glenoid anatomy.

When anatomic TSA clinically and/or radiographically fails, conversion to rTSA is an alternate to revision anatomic TSA. However, the more expensive and complex rTSA system can be difficult to implant in the revision scenario. In the May 3, 2017 issue of The Journal, Crosby et al. provide the outcomes of conversion from primary anatomic TSA to revision rTSA among two groups: those who originally received  a convertible-platform implant system, allowing the humeral stem to be retained during revision, and those whose revision required humeral stem exchange.

Patients with retained-stem revisions had significantly shorter operative times, lower estimated blood loss, lower intraoperative complication rates, and slightly better postoperative ROM. Although the authors caution that “the presence of a convertible-platform humeral component does not guarantee that it can be retained,” they conclude that the data from this study “support the use of a convertible-platform humeral stem when performing primary shoulder arthroplasty.”

Whenever possible, it’s a good idea to design implants where the portions that remain well-fixed can be retained and re-used for the rare revision situation. Such retained, modular parts can save resources, reduce operative time and patient morbidity, and may improve functional outcomes. However, we must be aware that issues with wear debris that have surfaced in modular hip components may also come into play with modular shoulder components.

Marc Swiontkowski, MD
JBJS Editor-in-Chief

Ambulatory Shoulder Arthroplasty Is Safe

swiontkowski-marc-colorIn the April 19, 2017 issue of The Journal, Cancienne et al. compare complication and readmission rates for patients undergoing ambulatory shoulder arthroplasty with those among patients admitted as hospital inpatients postoperatively. Because the analysis was based on data from a large national insurer, we can be quite sure of appropriate coding and accurate data capture.

Similar to our recent report regarding outpatient hand and elbow surgery, in no instance were complications present at a significantly higher rate in the patients who underwent ambulatory shoulder arthroplasty, and the rate of hospital readmission after discharge was not significantly different at 30 or 90 days between the two cohorts.

This definitely is a tip of the hat to orthopaedic surgeons, nurses, and anesthesiologists, who are making sound decisions regarding which patients are appropriate for outpatient arthroplasty. Cancienne et al. found that obesity and morbid obesity were significant demographic risk factors for readmission among the ambulatory cohort, and they also identified the following comorbidities as readmission risk factors in that group:

  • Diabetes
  • Peripheral vascular disease
  • Congestive heart failure
  • Chronic lung disease
  • Depression
  • Chronic anemia

These results offer further documentation regarding the shift away from hospital-based care after orthopaedic surgery. Those of us who perform surgery in dedicated orthopaedic centers as well as general hospital operating rooms understand the concepts of efficiency, focus, maintenance of team skills, and limiting waste. Those objectives in large part drive the move to outpatient surgery. But patients, who almost always prefer to be at home and sleep in their own beds (or recliners in the case of shoulder replacement), may be an even more powerful driver of ambulatory care in the future.

Major advances in postoperative pain management are great enablers in this regard, and I believe the trend will continue. I envision a day when the only patients admitted to hospitals after orthopaedic surgery are those with unstable medical issues who potentially may need ICU care postoperatively.

Marc Swiontkowski, MD
JBJS Editor-in-Chief

Unplanned Readmissions After Outpatient Hand and Elbow Surgery

swiontkowski-marc-colorIn the April 5, 2017 issue of The Journal, Noureldin et al. analyzed more than 14,000 procedures from the NSQIP database to determine the rate of unplanned 30-day readmission after outpatient surgical procedures of the hand and elbow. The 1.2% rate seems well within the range of acceptability, particularly because the more than 450 institutions contributing to this database probably serve populations who don’t have the best overall health and comorbidity profiles.

Missing causes for about one-third of the readmissions illustrate one issue with data accuracy in these large administrative datasets. While the authors acknowledged a “lack of granularity” as the greatest limitation in analyzing large databases, they added that the readmissions with no listed cause “were likely unrelated to the principal procedure.”

It was not surprising that infection was the most common cause for readmission. However, it would have been nice to know the rate of confirmed infection via positive cultures, as I suspect many of these patients were readmitted for erythema, swelling, warmth, and discomfort associated with postoperative hematoma rather than infection.

Regardless of the need for higher-quality data on complications following outpatient orthopaedic surgical procedures, this analysis gives us more confidence that the move toward outpatient surgical care in our specialty is warranted. I think most patients would rather sleep in their own home as long as preoperative comorbidities and ASA levels are considered and adequate postoperative pain control can be achieved in an outpatient setting. The trend toward outpatient orthopaedic treatment is likely to continue as we gather higher-quality data and better understand the risk-benefit profile.

Marc Swiontkowski, MD
JBJS Editor-in-Chief