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The Challenges of Complex Revision Elbow Arthroplasty

Lower-extremity joint replacement is quite well-advanced, thanks to a high incidence of disabling osteoarthritis and a 40-plus-year history of development in hip and knee prostheses. Additionally, during the last 5 to 10 years, we have made progress in prosthetic design and reliable surgical techniques for the ankle. In the upper extremity, we have a similar 4-decade development history with anatomic shoulder replacement and now 10-plus years with increasingly reliable reverse total shoulder arthroplasty.

However, techniques for elbow and wrist arthroplasty have been much slower to develop, due to lower incidence of pathology, the unique functional demands on these joints, and prosthetic-design and fixation issues. Still, the Conrad-Morrey family of implants has provided reliable elbow prostheses for more than 20 years. Meanwhile, the indications for elbow arthroplasty have narrowed to inflammatory arthritis and distal humeral fractures and nonunions in patients with lower functional demands. Unfortunately, failure of fixation, infection, and bone resorption do occur after primary elbow arthroplasty; consequently, a small but growing number of patients face revision elbow arthroplasty.

In the November 18, 2020 issue of The Journal, Burnier et al. report the results of revision elbow arthroplasty using a proximal ulnar allograft-prosthetic composite to compensate for missing ulnar bone stock and triceps tendon insufficiency. They clearly explain the surgical technique and report their results among a 10-patient cohort, including details of the 6 cases that required reoperation.

JBJS will continue reporting results of revision joint arthroplasty because members of the orthopaedic community have to manage these very complex cases, and this type of information is helpful to guide treatment decisions and patient expectations. Equally important is the positive impact this information has on further development of surgical techniques and prosthetic designs. Close examination of failure is the fuel for innovative improvement.

Marc Swiontkowski, MD
JBJS Editor-in-Chief

What’s New in Shoulder and Elbow Surgery 2020

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 specialty-update summaries.

This month, Matthew R. Schmitz, MD, JBJS Deputy Editor for Social Media, selected the most clinically compelling findings from the >40 studies summarized in the October 21, 2020 “What’s New in Shoulder and Elbow Surgery.

Rotator Cuff Repair
–A prospective randomized study compared operative and nonoperative treatment of small and medium-sized chronic full-thickness rotator cuff tears. At 10 years, the outcomes of primary repair were superior to those of nonoperative treatment, but both groups improved significantly over time.

Anterior Shoulder Instability
–A randomized trial compared arthroscopic Bankart repair to arthroscopic washout in the treatment of a first-time anterior dislocation. Bankart repair was associated with lower recurrence rates, fewer revisions, and better maintenance of functional outcomes.

–A prospective study evaluated the amount of glenoid bone loss associated with a single instability event in young athletes (average age of 20 years).1 A first-time dislocation was associated with a 6.8% bone loss. In the setting of recurrent instability, total bone loss averaged 10.2% at the time of enrollment and 22.8% after a subsequent instability event.

Proximal Humeral Fractures in the Elderly
–A randomized controlled trial compared locking-plate fixation with reverse total shoulder arthroplasty in treating intra-articular displaced proximal humeral fractures in patients 65 to 85 years of age. At 2 years, Constant-Murley scores were significantly better in the reverse total shoulder arthroplasty group.

“Little League” Elbow
–A prospective MRI-based study of Little League baseball players aged 12 to 15 years2 found that 58% of the players had abnormal upper-extremity MRI findings, and that in 80% of those players, the MRI findings worsened with continued baseball play. The authors suggest that surgeons discourage year-round play in young baseball players.

References

  1. Dickens JF, Slaven SE, Cameron KL, Pickett AM, Posner M, Campbell SE, Owens BD. Prospective evaluation of glenoid bone loss after first-time and recurrent anterior glenohumeral instability events. Am J Sports Med.2019 Apr;47(5):1082-9.
  2. Holt JB, Pedowitz JM, Stearns PH, Bastrom TP, Dennis MM, Dwek JR, Pennock AT. Progressive elbow magnetic resonance imaging abnormalities in Little League baseball players are common: a 3-year longitudinal evaluation. Am J Sports Med.2020 Feb;48(2):466-72. Epub 2019 Dec 4.

How Much Ulnar Lengthening in Kids with HME-Related Radial Head Dislocation?

Lengthening the ulna is a common method of treating radial head dislocations due to hereditary multiple exostoses (HME) in pediatric patients, but the optimal amount of ulnar lengthening remains unclear. In the June 17, 2020 issue of JBJS, Huang et al. demonstrate that using the proportional ulnar length of 1.1 as a guide to ulnar lengthening can promote spontaneous correction of the radial shaft deformity. The authors arrived at the 1.1 proportion by measuring the normal lengths of the ulna and radius in 20 pediatric patients of different age groups.

Huang et al. then treated 30 forearms (average patient age of 7.4 years) that had a radial head dislocation associated with HME. They excised the osteochondroma around the physis of the distal part of the ulna prior to lengthening. They then pulled the radial head down to the plane of the ulnar coronoid process with a Kirschner wire and lengthened the ulna to predicted proportional length using a modified Ilizarov frame. The technique also facilitated lengthening of the soft tissues of the elbow.

At the time of frame removal, reduction of the dislocated radial head was achieved in 28 forearms (93%). Forearm function also improved markedly, as did radial bowing and the radioarticular angle. The actual ulnar lengthening distance in these patients was greater than the predicted lengthening using the proportional method, but that contributed to the spontaneous remodeling of the radial shaft deformity, and there were no instances of wrist impingement.

The authors conclude that this study demonstrates that, in this clinical scenario, the “proportional ulnar length is a safe and effective parameter to use as the ulnar lengthening reference value.” But they also note that the small number of patients and the average follow-up of 63 months in this study should be expanded in future research.

How to Conduct a Virtual Orthopaedic Examination

For obvious reasons, the use of telemedicine has surged during the COVID-19 pandemic. If you are wondering what a “virtual” orthopaedic physical exam looks like, Tanaka et al. explain the process in words and images in a recent fast-tracked JBJS article.

At the time they schedule their virtual visit, patients are asked to confirm their audiovisual capabilities, and they receive specific instructions about camera positioning, body positioning, setting, and attire to improve the efficiency of the visit.

Tanaka et al. give step-by-step instructions for virtually evaluating the knee, hip, shoulder, and elbow. They describe how they measure range of motion using a web-based goniometer (see Figure), and they explain how to conduct virtual strength tests for each joint. To enable post-exam follow-up discussions with patients, the authors recommend using “the screen-sharing function that is presumably available on all interactive telehealth platforms.”

The authors acknowledge the limitations inherent in a virtual orthopaedic exam, such as the inability to directly palpate the joint or perform provocative tests. They also admit that the patient population that would potentially benefit the most from televisits—older patients with limited mobility and who are at higher risk for infection during the pandemic—are also those who may have the most difficulty implementing the technology.

The rapid rise of telemedicine in orthopaedics has occurred due to unexpected necessity, but many expect that its widespread use will continue post-pandemic. Tanaka et al. cite future directions for the technology, including the development of validated, modified examination techniques and advancements that will improve interactivity during the physical examination. For now, though, these experience-based guidelines should help orthopaedists optimize the quality and efficiency of their upcoming virtual visits for common musculoskeletal conditions.

The Fate of Chris Sale’s Left Elbow

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.

Lloyd Resnick
JBJS Developmental Editor

Jason Miller
JBJS Chief Operating Officer

Implant Prices are Main Cost Driver in Joint Replacements

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
JBJS Editor-in-Chief

What’s New in Shoulder and Elbow Surgery 2019

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.

UCL Insufficiency
–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.

References

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. Niu EL, Tepolt FABae DSLebrun DGKocher MSNonoperative management of stable pediatric osteochondritis dissecans of the capitellum: predictors of treatment successJ Shoulder Elbow Surg.2018 Nov;27(11):2030-7.
  7. Camp CL, Conte SD’Angelo JFealy SAFollowing ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction, professional baseball position players return to play faster than pitchers, but catchers return less frequentlyJ Shoulder Elbow Surg.2018 Jun;27(6):1078-85. Epub 2018 Mar 23.

The Softer Side of Better Patient Outcomes

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?

April 2019 Article Exchange with JOSPT

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.

A Four-Legged Step Toward Preventing Elbow Contractures

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
JBJS Editor-in-Chief