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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

Both Subjective and Objective Measures Tell the Shoulder Story

Shoulder ROM Image for OBuzz.jpegWhen surgeons and patients discuss what treatment will work best for a particular musculoskeletal ailment, they often rely on both “subjective” and “objective” outcome data from previously published assessments. Reviewing both types of data is a good idea, because a study among more than 100 patients with shoulder osteoarthritis by Matsen et al. in the March 1, 2017 issue of The Journal of Bone & Joint Surgery found poor correlation between objective measures of active abduction and subjective patient self-assessments using the Simple Shoulder Test (SST).

The authors used a statistical method called “coefficient of determination”
to confirm “a highly variable relationship” between the patient-reported SST (subjective) and motor-sensor range-of-motion (objective) measurements. In less statistical language, many of the shoulders had good motion and poor self-assessed function, while others had poor motion and good self-assessed function.

The findings led the authors to conclude that “studies of treatment outcomes should include separate assessments of these 2 complementary aspects of shoulder function.”  That conclusion was seconded and expanded upon in a commentary by Jeffrey S. Abrams, MD, who wrote that “either [subjective or objective] assessment used independently may lead to the wrong impression.”

JBJS Case Connections—Osteochondritis Dissecans: Baseball and Genetics

Shoulder_OCD_12_29_16.png The exact mechanism by which osteochondritis dissecans (OCD) lesions develop is poorly understood. This month’s “Case Connections” spotlights 3 case reports of OCD in young baseball players, 2 of whom developed the condition in the shoulder. A fourth case report details 3 presentations of bilateral OCD of the femoral head that occurred in the same family over 3 generations.

The springboard case report, from the December 28, 2016, edition of JBJS Case Connector, describes a 16-year-old Major League Baseball (MLB) pitching prospect in whom an OCD lesion of the shoulder healed radiographically and clinically after 8 months of non-throwing and physical therapy focused on improving range of motion and throwing mechanics. Three additional JBJS Case Connector case reports summarized in the article focus on:

Among the take-home points emphasized in this Case Connections article:

  • MRI arthrograms are the best imaging modality to determine the stability of most OCD lesions. Radiographs in such cases often appear normal.
  • Early-stage OCD has the potential to heal spontaneously. Activity modification and physical therapy are effective treatments.
  • There is not a “gold-standard” surgical intervention for treating unstable/late-stage OCD. Surgery frequently provides clinical benefits but often does not result in radiographic improvement.

What’s New in Shoulder and Elbow Surgery

reverse_TSA.pngEvery 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, Aaron Chamberlain, MD, MSc, a co-author of the October 19, 2016 Specialty Update on Shoulder and Elbow Surgery, selected the five most clinically compelling findings from among the more than 40 studies summarized in the Specialty Update.

Reverse Shoulder Arthroplasty

Optimizing reverse shoulder arthroplasty implant design continues to be a research focus. There is significant variation among different implants with regard to the amount of lateralization of the center of rotation, and how lateralization affects clinical outcomes is of particular interest.  Authors randomized patients to undergo reverse shoulder arthroplasty with a center of rotation at the native glenoid face or with lateralization.1  Postoperative functional results at a mean follow-up of 22 months were similar between groups overall.  However, when the analysis excluded patients with teres minor muscle degeneration, patients with a more lateralized center of rotation had a greater improvement in external rotation.  This may portend a benefit of lateralization in the setting of an intact posterior rotator cuff.

Rotator Cuff Tear Natural History

A Level-I prospective cohort study of patients with asymptomatic rotator cuff tears evaluated patterns of tear progression over time.2 Of specific interest was whether the integrity of the anterior supraspinatus cable influenced tear size and/or risk for tear enlargement.  Cable-disrupted tears were 9 mm larger at baseline, but cable integrity did not influence risk for tear enlargement or time to enlargement.  This understanding may help inform patient discussions about the risks of nonoperative management of rotator cuff tears.

Rotator Cuff Repair

Do patients with symptomatic degenerative rotator cuff tears fare better with surgery or nonoperative management?   Only three prospective randomized trials have been published comparing outcomes after randomizing patients to nonoperative management or surgical repair. This Level-I trial randomized patients (mean age of 61) with degenerative full thickness cuff tears to either a course of non-operative management (corticosteroid injection, physical therapy, and oral analgesics) or surgical rotator cuff repair. 3 Patients who underwent surgery experienced a greater reduction in VAS pain and VAS disability scores compared with the nonoperative cohort at 1 year of follow-up.

In another prospective randomized study, authors randomized patients who were ≥55 years of age with painful degenerative supraspinatus tears into one of three treatments: 1) physical therapy alone, 2) acromioplasty and physical therapy, and 3) rotator cuff repair, acromioplasty, and physical therapy. Patients in this study were older than those in the study mentioned above, with a mean age of 65 (range 55 to 81).  At the 2-year follow-up, no significant differences among the three interventions were seen in the Constant score, VAS pain score, or patient satisfaction. This data supports initial conservative treatment in older patients with degenerative atraumatic cuff tears.  However, the importance of tear progression over time and the age threshold that separates “older” patients from “younger” patients remain to be determined.

Biological Supplementation

Can we improve the biologic healing environment for rotator cuff repair healing? A Level-I prospective randomized controlled study evaluated leukocyte and platelet-rich fibrin in rotator cuff repairs.4 Patients underwent arthroscopic rotator cuff repair with and without leukocyte and platelet-rich fibrin applied to the repair site. No beneficial effect of leukocyte and platelet-rich fibrin was found in overall clinical outcome, healing rate, postoperative defect size, and tendon quality at the 1-year follow-up.  A reliable biological augmentation solution for rotator cuff healing remains elusive.


1            Greiner S, Schmidt C, Herrmann S, Pauly S, Perka C. Clinical performance of lateralized versus non-lateralized reverse shoulder arthroplasty: a prospective randomized study. J. Shoulder Elbow Surg. [Internet]. 2015;24(9):1397–404. Available from:

2            Keener JD, Hsu JE, Steger-May K, Teefey SA, Chamberlain AM, Yamaguchi K. Patterns of tear progression for asymptomatic degenerative rotator cuff tears. J. Shoulder Elbow Surg. [Internet]. 2015 Dec 1;24(12):1845–1851. Available from:

3            Lambers Heerspink FO, van Raay JJAM, Koorevaar RCT, van Eerden PJM, Westerbeek RE, van ’t Riet E, et al. Comparing surgical repair with conservative treatment for degenerative rotator cuff tears: a randomized controlled trial. J. Shoulder Elbow Surg. [Internet]. 2015;24(8):1274–81. Available from:

4            Zumstein MA, Rumian A, Thélu CÉ, Lesbats V, O’Shea K, Schaer M, et al. SECEC Research Grant 2008 II: Use of platelet- and leucocyte-rich fibrin (L-PRF) does not affect late rotator cuff tendon healing: a prospective randomized controlled study. J. Shoulder Elbow Surg. [Internet]. 2016 Jan 1;25(1):2–11. Available from:

JBJS Classics: Biomechanics of the Normal Elbow

jbjsclassics-2016OrthoBuzz regularly brings you a current commentary on a “classic” article from The Journal of Bone & Joint Surgery. These articles have been selected by the Editor-in-Chief and Deputy Editors of The Journal because of their long-standing significance to the orthopaedic community and the many citations they receive in the literature. Our OrthoBuzz commentators highlight the impact that these JBJS articles have had on the practice of orthopaedics. Please feel free to join the conversation by clicking on the “Leave a Comment” button in the box to the left.

The classic 1981 JBJS article by B.F. Morrey et al. begs to be read carefully, in part because of the name of the lead author. More importantly, this study answers the question that arises with almost every patient with an elbow disorder: Is the achieved range of motion sufficient for activities of daily living? We can answer this question “yes” or “no” after reading this article, and in my own practice, I repeatedly refer to the information provided in it.

Dr. Morrey was an aerospace engineer who worked at NASA for two years before he attended medical school at the University of Texas Medical Branch. After his residency at the Mayo Clinic and after achieving a master’s degree in biomechanics from the University of Minnesota, he joined the staff at Mayo in 1978.

In this article, which integrates Dr. Morrey’s engineering and medical disciplines, he applied a high-tech device of that period (the triaxial electrogoniometer) to answer simple but eternal questions such as what degree of elbow flexion is needed to eat or perform personal hygiene.

It is the nature of human beings to notice particular joint impairments only when they disturb activities of daily living. Patient-reported outcome scores assessing subtle disturbances have recently been published, but we learned from Dr. Morrey’s article that patients with elbow flexion less than 130° will probably be reminded of their elbow problem whenever they try to use a telephone. (With today’s small cellular phones the problem might be even more accentuated.)

There is not much that a contemporary reviewer would criticise if this study were to be submitted today. Yes, the graphics would be nicer, and there would be more than 12 references. Modern computer-aided tools and methods for motion analysis might be more precise (and produce a mass of partially redundant data), but the results would remain essentially the same.

In fact, the question of functional elbow range of motion was revisited in JBJS by Sardelli et al. exactly 30 years after Dr. Morrey’s study appeared. Using modern three-dimensional optical tracking technology, Sardelli et al. found only minimal differences compared to findings in the Morrey et al. study. Only a few contemporary tasks like working on a computer (greater pronation) or using a cellular phone (greater flexion) appeared to require slightly more range of motion than previously reported.

Finally, it is the succinct and pointed results that amaze me whenever I recall the information from Dr. Morrey’s study. All we need to remember are four numbers: 100, 30, 130, and 50. Therein we are reminded that the patient needs to achieve a 100° arc of motion for flexion /extension (from 30° to 130°) and forearm rotation (50° of pronation and 50° of supination).

The authors were able to omit the conclusion sentence we see so often these days: “Further studies are needed…” The question about the minimal range of elbow motion needed to accomplish activities of daily living has been convincingly answered in this article. All residents should read this JBJS classic early, certainly before they examine their first patient with an elbow disorder.

Bernhard Jost, M.D.
JBJS Deputy Editor