Disclosure: The co-authors of this post are lifelong, die-hard, pathological fans of the Boston Red Sox.
At this time of a global public-health emergency, we probably should not be distracted by things like this, but… Yesterday the Boston Red Sox announced that left-handed pitcher Chris Sale, one of the best hurlers in baseball, would undergo Tommy John surgery, otherwise known as ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction (see related Clinical Summary). This, by itself, is not surprising, because by some estimates, one-third of all Major League Baseball pitchers have that operation.
What puts the hitch in our windup is this: In August of 2019, Sale, who was experiencing his worst season ever stat-wise, received an injection of platelet-rich plasma (PRP) in his left elbow and was shut down for the rest of the season. Here we are, 8 months later, and he is facing a surgery that was veritably inevitable and could have happened then rather than now.
PRP has shown promise in treating some musculoskeletal conditions, but its effectiveness in elbow injuries is unproven at best. In response to a surge of research interest in PRP, JBJS recently published an article calling for standardization of PRP preparation protocols and more responsible reporting of methods and findings in the literature so that any positive findings can be replicated in future investigations.
No surgery date for Sale has been announced (most elective orthopaedic surgeries are being postponed to redirect resources to the COVID-19 pandemic), and we don’t know who will perform the surgery. What we do know is that this year is the first of a 5-year, $145 million contract for Sale. While it’s silly to use the words “schedule” or “timeline” for anything now, a best-case scenario would have Sale back on the mound in games in June or July of 2021. We are not privy to the terms of Sale’s contract, but we assume the clock on it is ticking, and several months of an elite pitcher’s career was wasted waiting for a treatment to work that is not backed by any solid science.
Click here for a compendium of JBJS content related to PRP.
JBJS Developmental Editor
JBJS Chief Operating Officer
Orthopaedic surgeons have long been aware of the role that implant prices play in the total cost of care for arthroplasty procedures, but methodical breakdowns of implant costs in relation to the cost of other aspects of care have generally been lacking. In the March 4, 2020 issue of The Journal, Carducci et al. detail the impact of implant costs on the total cost of care in a study of 6 lower- and upper-extremity arthroplasty types performed at a single, high-volume orthopaedic specialty hospital.
Using a uniform method called time-driven activity-based costing, the authors calculated the total costs of >22,200 inpatient primary total joint arthroplasties, and then broke down those total costs by categories, including implant price and personnel costs. It was no surprise that, as a percentage of total cost, implant costs were highest for low-volume surgeries (as high as 65% for total ankle arthroplasty) and lowest for high-volume procedures (e.g., 40% for total knee arthroplasty). Nevertheless, across the board, implant price was the most expensive component of total cost.
Implant prices are individually negotiated between a hospital and an implant supplier and are usually protected by nondisclosure agreements, so the data from this investigation may not match up with data from any other institution. Unfortunately, the future of implant-cost research will be tied to the complex issue of return-on-investment for implant-manufacturer stockholders as it relates to negotiations with individual hospitals and health systems.
The profound impact of implant price on the total cost of all the joint arthroplasties studied by Carducci et al. also begs the questions as to how “generic” implants (those not manufactured by the major orthopaedic producers) will ultimately influence the market—and whether “branded” implants, with their 30% to 50% markups, provide any functional benefit for patients. We will need further well-designed research to address those questions.
Marc Swiontkowski, MD
Every month, JBJS publishes a review of the most pertinent and impactful studies published in the orthopaedic literature during the previous year in 13 subspecialties. Click here for a collection of all such OrthoBuzz summaries. This month, Matthew R. Schmitz, MD, JBJS Deputy Editor for Social Media, selected the most clinically compelling findings from the 50 studies summarized in the October 16, 2019 “What’s New in Shoulder and Elbow Surgery.
Rotator Cuff Repair
–A randomized controlled trial compared immediate and delayed surgical repair of partial-thickness rotator cuff tears.1 No differences in retear rates were found, suggesting that a trial of nonoperative management remains appropriate for partial-thickness tears.
–The search continues for biologic augmentations to improve healing after rotator cuff repair. A study that randomized patients to weekly human growth hormone injections for 3 months or no injections after repair of a large tear found no difference in healing rates.2 Another randomized study of the effect on cuff-repair healing of platelet-rich plasma in a fibrin matrix found no improvement.3 A similar randomized trial of platelet-rich plasma plus thrombin in patients with a single-row repair of the supraspinatus found no differences in clinical outcomes or healing rates.4
–Psychosocial factors have been associated with pain relief and functional improvement after rotator cuff repairs. A longitudinal cohort study found that higher fear-avoidance behavior and alcohol use of ≥1 to 2 times per week compared with alcohol use ≤2 to 3 times per month negatively impacted shoulder pain and function at 18 months postoperatively.5
Osteochondritis Dissecans of the Capitellum
–A study evaluated predictors of success of nonoperatively treating patients with osteochondritis dissecans of the capitellum who did not have fluid underneath the fragment.6 Researchers found that lesion healing was associated with the following:
- Smaller overall lesion size
- No clear margins of the fragment on MRI
- Absence of cyst-like lesions
The authors include a nomogram that clinicians can use to predict healing.
–A study investigated baseball position-specific factors affecting return to play after ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) reconstruction.7 Investigators found the following:
- Position players returned to play sooner than pitchers, but they had lower rates of return to play.
- Catchers had the lowest likelihood of return to play (58.6%) and pitchers had the highest (83.7%).
These findings could help clinicians set expectations for players undergoing UCL reconstruction.
- Kim YS, Lee HJ, Kim JH, Noh DY. When should we repair partial-thickness rotator cuff tears? Outcome comparison between immediate surgical repair versus delayed repair after 6-month period of nonsurgical treatment. Am J Sports Med.2018 Apr;46(5):1091-6. Epub 2018 Mar 5.
- Oh JH, Chung SW, Oh KS, Yoo JC, Jee W, Choi JA, Kim YS, Park JY. Effect of recombinant human growth hormone on rotator cuff healing after arthroscopic repair: preliminary result of a multicenter, prospective, randomized, open-label blinded end point clinical exploratory trial. J Shoulder Elbow Surg.2018 May;27(5):777-85. Epub 2018 Jan 11.
- Walsh MR, Nelson BJ, Braman JP, Yonke B, Obermeier M, Raja A, Reams M. Platelet-rich plasma in fibrin matrix to augment rotator cuff repair: a prospective, single-blinded, randomized study with 2-year follow-up. J Shoulder Elbow Surg.2018 Sep;27(9):1553-63. Epub 2018 Jul 9.
- Malavolta EA, Gracitelli MEC, Assunção JH, Ferreira Neto AA, Bordalo-Rodrigues M, de Camargo OP. Clinical and structural evaluations of rotator cuff repair with and without added platelet-rich plasma at 5-year follow-up: a prospective randomized study. Am J Sports Med.2018 Nov;46(13):3134-41. Epub 2018 Sep 20.
- Jain NB, Ayers GD, Fan R, Kuhn JE, Baumgarten KM, Matzkin E, Higgins LD. Predictors of pain and functional outcomes after operative treatment for rotator cuff tears. J Shoulder Elbow Surg.2018 Aug;27(8):1393-400.
- Niu EL, Tepolt FA, Bae DS, Lebrun DG, Kocher MS. Nonoperative management of stable pediatric osteochondritis dissecans of the capitellum: predictors of treatment success. J Shoulder Elbow Surg.2018 Nov;27(11):2030-7.
- Camp CL, Conte S, D’Angelo J, Fealy SA. Following ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction, professional baseball position players return to play faster than pitchers, but catchers return less frequently. J Shoulder Elbow Surg.2018 Jun;27(6):1078-85. Epub 2018 Mar 23.
It goes almost without saying that a patient’s return to work after an orthopaedic injury or musculoskeletal disorder would correlate with the severity of the condition. But what about the connection between return to work and a more “touchy-feely” parameter, such as the patient-surgeon relationship?
Dubert et al. conducted a longitudinal observational study of 219 patient who were 18 to 65 years of age and had undergone operations for upper-limb injuries or musculoskeletal disorders. In the August 7, 2019 issue of JBJS, they report that a positive relationship between patient and surgeon hastened return to work and reduced total time off from work.
At the time of enrollment (a mean of 149 days after surgery), the authors assessed the patient-surgeon relationship with a validated, 11-item questionnaire called Q-PASREL, and they collected patients’ functional and quality-of-life scores at the same time. The authors then tracked which patients had returned to work 6 months later, and they calculated how many workdays those who did return had missed.
The Q-PASREL questionnaire explores surgeon support provided to the patient, the patience of the surgeon, the surgeon’s appraisal of when the patient can return to work, the cooperation of the surgeon regarding administrative issues, the empathy perceived by the patient, and the surgeon’s use of appropriate vocabulary.
Here is a summary of the findings:
- At 6 months after enrollment, 74% of patients who had returned to work had given their surgeon a high or medium-high Q-PASREL score. By contrast, 64% of the patients who had not returned to work had given their surgeon a low or medium-low Q-PASREL score.
- The odds of returning to work were 56% higher among patients who gave surgeons the highest Q-PASREL scores compared with those who gave surgeons the lowest scores.
- The “body structure” subscore on one of the functional measurements and the Q-PASREL quartile were the only two independent predictors of total time off from work among patients who had returned to work.
After asserting that their study “confirms that surgeons’ relationships with their patients can influence the patients’ satisfaction and outcomes,” Dubert et al. go on to suggest that the findings should prompt surgeons to “work on empathy, time spent with their patients, and communication.” While they rightly claim that such improvements would entail “little financial investment and no side effects,” perhaps the authors, who practice in France, underestimate the effort that goes into changing behavior—and into addressing the time constraints imposed by the US health care system?
In 2015, JBJS launched an “article exchange” collaboration with the Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy (JOSPT) to support multidisciplinary integration, continuity of care, and excellent patient outcomes in orthopaedics and sports medicine.
During the month of April 2019, JBJS and OrthoBuzz readers will have open access to the JOSPT article titled “Repair of the Ulnar Collateral Ligament of the Elbow: Rehabilitation Following Internal Brace Surgery.”
In this Clinical Commentary based on the authors’ experience with >350 cases, Wilk et al. describe the rehabilitation process used for patients following UCL repair with an “internal brace.” This recent surgical advance in managing incomplete UCL tears enhances elbow joint stability while the ligament is healing.
Up to 50% of patients who sustain an elbow injury subsequently develop some type of contracture, making elbow contracture following trauma a common and vexing clinical scenario. While we do not completely understand the molecular basis or structural mechanisms underlying these contractures, we do know that active range-of-motion (ROM) exercises and gentle stretching are often helpful, whereas prolonged immobilization and forceful passive ROM exercises are often, if not always, detrimental.
In the March 6, 2019 issue of The Journal, Dunham and colleagues document with a rat model a better understanding about which specific tissues around the elbow account for this condition. They performed a surgical procedure on rat elbows to simulate a dislocation and then immobilized the injured extremity for 6 weeks. After the authors obtained ROM measurements at that point, some of the rats were allowed an additional 3 or 6 weeks of free active motion before a postmortem surgical dissection was performed to determine which soft tissues were most responsible for the subsequent contracture.
While the authors hypothesized that all soft tissues (muscles/tendons, anterior capsule, and ligaments/cartilage) would play a significant role in posttraumatic stiffness, they found in fact that the ligaments and cartilage caused 52% of the lost motion after 21 days of free motion and 74% of the contracture after 42 days of free motion. With this information, clinical therapies such as pharmacologic infiltrations or biophysical energy delivered to the ligaments or cartilage could be investigated. In addition, refined surgical techniques focused on these structures could be proposed and analyzed. This study represents a small preclinical step in further understanding the mechanisms of joint contracture, but it provides a foundation on which further investigations can be built.
Marc Swiontkowski, MD
How much opioid analgesia do pediatric patients need after closed reduction and percutaneous pinning of a supracondylar humeral fracture? Not as much as they are being prescribed, suggests a study of 81 kids (mean age of 6 years) by Nelson et al. in the January 16, 2019 issue of The Journal of Bone & Joint Surgery.
All patients in the study underwent closed reduction and percutaneous pinning at a single pediatric trauma center. The authors collected opioid utilization data and pain scores (using the Wong-Baker FACES scale) for postoperative days 1 to 7, 10, 14, and 21 via a text-message system, with automated text queries sent to the phones of the parents/guardians of the patients. (Click here for another January 16, 2019 JBJS study that relied on text messaging.)
Not surprisingly, the mean postoperative pain ratings were highest on the morning of postoperative day 1, but even those were only 3.5 out of a possible 10. By postop day 3, the mean pain rating decreased to <2. As you’d expect, postoperative opioid use decreased in parallel to reported pain.
Overall, patients used only 24% of the opioids they were prescribed after surgery. (See related OrthoBuzz post about the discrepancy between opioids prescribed and their actual use by patients.) Considering that pain levels and opioid usage decreased in this patient population to clinically unimportant levels by postoperative day 3, the authors conclude that “opioid prescriptions containing only 7 doses would be sufficient for the majority of [pediatric] patients after closed reduction and percutaneous pinning without compromising analgesia.”
Now that some normative data such as these are available, Nelson et al. “encourage orthopaedic surgeons treating these common [pediatric] injuries to reflect on their opioid-prescribing practices.” They also call for prospective randomized studies into whether non-narcotic analgesia might be as effective as opioid analgesia for these patients.
Experienced orthopaedic clinicians understand that anxious patients with high levels of pain are some of the most challenging to evaluate and treat. Both anxiety and pain siphon away the patient’s focus and concentration, complicating the surgeon’s job of relaying key diagnostic and treatment information—often leaving patients confused and dissatisfied. Moreover, such patients usually want a quick solution to their physical pain and mental angst, whether that be a prescription for medication or surgery. At the same time, despite controversy, variously defined levels of “patient satisfaction” are being used as a metric to evaluate quality and value throughout the US health-care system. This reinforces the need for orthopaedists to understand the complex interplay between biological and psychological elements of patient encounters.
In the November 7, 2018 issue of The Journal, Tyser et al. use validated instruments to clarify the relationship between a patient’s pre-existing function, pain, and anxiety and the satisfaction the patient received from a new or returning outpatient visit to a hand/upper extremity clinic. Not surprisingly, the authors found that higher levels of physical function prior to the clinic visit correlated with increased satisfaction after the visit, as measured by the widely used Press Ganey online satisfaction survey. They also noted that higher antecedent levels of anxiety and pain, as determined by two PROMIS instruments, correlated with decreased levels of patient satisfaction with the visit. The authors assessed patient satisfaction only with the clinic visit and the care provider, not with any subsequent treatment.
Most patients are likely to experience some level of pain or anxiety when they meet with an orthopaedic surgeon. To leave patients more content with these visits, we need to set appropriate expectations for the visit in advance of the interaction and develop real-time, in-clinic strategies that help patients cope with anxiety. Such “biopsychosocial” strategies may not by themselves dictate the ultimate treatment, but they may go a long way toward helping patients understand their options and feel satisfied with the care provided. Secondarily, such strategies may help improve the satisfaction scores that administrators, rightly or wrongly, are increasingly using to evaluate musculoskeletal practitioners.
Marc Swiontkowski, MD
Every month, JBJS publishes a Specialty Update—a review of the most pertinent and impactful studies published in the orthopaedic literature during the previous year in 13 subspecialties. Click here for a collection of all OrthoBuzz Specialty Update summaries.
This month, Robert Tashjian, MD, co-author of the October 17, 2018 Specialty Update on shoulder and elbow surgery, selected the most clinically compelling findings from among the 36 studies summarized in the Specialty Update.
Progression of Primary Osteoarthritis
–A study evaluating the relationship between glenoid erosion patterns and rotator cuff muscle fatty infiltration found that fatty infiltration was associated with B3 glenoids, increased pathologic glenoid retroversion, and increased joint-line medialization. The authors recommend close observation of patients with B-type glenoids, as the progression of glenoid erosion is more likely in B-type than A-type glenoids.
Perioperative Pain Management
–In a randomized controlled trial of perioperative pain management in patients undergoing primary shoulder arthroplasty, narcotic consumption during the first 24 postoperative hours was similar between a group that received interscalene brachial plexus blockade and a group that received intraoperative soft-tissue infiltration of liposomal bupivacaine. The interscalene group had lower VAS pain scores at 0 and 8 hours postoperatively; both groups had similar VAS pain scores at 16 hours; and the soft-tissue infiltration group had lower pain scores at 24 hours postoperatively.
–In a reevaluation of patients with nonoperatively treated chronic, symptomatic full-thickness rotator cuff tears that had become asymptomatic at 3 months, researchers found that at a minimum of 5 years, 75% of the patients remained asymptomatic.1 The Constant scores in the group that remained asymptomatic were equivalent at 5 years to those who initially underwent surgical repair. While these findings suggest that nonoperative treatment can yield clinical success at 5 years, the authors caution that “individuals with substantial tear progression or the development of atrophy will likely have a worse clinical result.”
–A recent study of the progression of fatty muscle degeneration in asymptomatic shoulders with degenerative full-thickness rotator cuff tears found that larger tears at baseline had greater fatty degeneration, and that tears with fatty degeneration were more likely to enlarge over time. Median time from tear enlargement to fatty degeneration was 1 year. Because the rapid progression of muscle degeneration seems to occur with increasing tear size, such patients should be closely monitored if treated nonoperatively.
Shoulder Instability in Athletes
–An evaluation of outcomes among 73 athletes who had undergone Latarjet procedures found that, after a mean follow-up of 52 months, ASES scores averaged 93. However, only 49% of the athletes returned to their preoperative sport level; 14% decreased their activity level in the same sport; and 12% changed sports altogether. While the Latarjet can help stabilize shoulders in athletes, the likelihood is high that the athlete won’t return to the same level in the same sport after the procedure.
- Boorman RS, More KD, Hollinshead RM, Wiley JP, Mohtadi NG, Lo IKY, Brett KR. What happens to patients when we do not repair their cuff tears? Five-year rotator cuff quality-of-life index outcomes following nonoperative treatment of patients with full-thickness rotator cuff tears. J Shoulder Elbow Surg. 2018 Mar;27(3):444-8.
The orthopaedic community has been abuzz lately with conversations about the value of interdisciplinary teamwork among clinicians and shared decision-making between patients and clinicians. The positive results of both those approaches, implemented with children and adolescents who have cerebral palsy (CP), are revealed in a clinical cohort study by Louwers et al. in the August 15, 2018 JBJS.
The authors engaged 66 patients with CP in a comprehensive, multidisciplinary screening process and shared decision-making to determine each patient’s suitability for upper-extremity surgery. Forty-four patients were deemed eligible for surgery and 39 (mean age of 15 years) underwent surgery. Seven types of surgery were performed, depending on each patient’s predetermined goals, values, and preferences. Seventy-seven percent of patients had surgery that consisted of flexor carpi ulnaris tendon release or transfer and adductor pollicis muscle slide plus extensor pollicis longus rerouting.
The authors itemize the preoperative and postoperative assessment tools used in the study and describe them as “suitable for selecting patients for upper-extremity surgery and for evaluating the effect of that surgery.”
The bottom line: All outcomes improved significantly after patient-specific upper-extremity surgery in those deemed suitable for it and who opted for surgery after the shared decision-making process. Most of the patients experienced clinically relevant improvement in their functional and cosmetic goals and in manual performance 9 months after their operation.
The two patients who chose nonsurgical treatment after going through the assessment and shared decision-making process did so due to a lack of motivation for the intensive postoperative rehabilitation, which began with upper-limb immobilization for 5 to 6 weeks, followed by a program customized for each patient by his or her rehabilitation physician and occupational therapist.