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.
This post comes from Fred Nelson, MD, an orthopaedic surgeon in the Department of Orthopedics at Henry Ford Hospital and a clinical associate professor at Wayne State Medical School. Some of Dr. Nelson’s tips go out weekly to more than 3,000 members of the Orthopaedic Research Society (ORS), and all are distributed to more than 30 orthopaedic residency programs. Those not sent to the ORS are periodically reposted in OrthoBuzz with the permission of Dr. Nelson.
There are many suggested applications for platelet-rich plasma (PRP), including tendon repair, osteoarthritis, and other musculoskeletal conditions. However there is considerable controversy in the absence of convincing evidence about the optimal mix and concentration of white blood cells and platelets in PRP, and the most clinically effective nature and quantity of constituent cytokines or other biochemical agents in PRP.
Despite these lingering questions, PRP is commonly used to treat lateral epicondylitis (LE), commonly called “tennis elbow.” As with its other applications, the clinical use of PRP for painful tendons has received much attention, but its efficacy remains controversial.
To continue investigating the clinical effects of PRP and its individual components, researchers recruited 156 patients with LE and randomly divided them into those treated with a single injection of 2-mL autologous PRP and those who received only physical therapy without injection.1 Both groups used a tennis elbow strap and performed stretching and strengthening exercises for 24 weeks, at which point pain and functional improvements were assessed using the visual analog scale (VAS), Modified Mayo Clinic Performance Index for the elbow, and MRI. Levels of platelet-derived growth factor-AB (PDGF-AB), PDGF-BB, transforming growth factor-β (TGF-β), vascular endothelial growth factor, epithelial growth factor, and interleukin-1 β in the PRP were measured for statistical correlation with clinical scores.
At 24 weeks, all pain and functional variables—including VAS score, Mayo Clinic performance scores, and MRI grade—improved significantly in the PRP group, relative to the noninjection group (p < 0.05). The TGF-β level in the PRP significantly correlated with Mayo Clinic performance score and MRI grade improvement.
The PRP level of TGF-β appears to be important in tendon healing, but future studies will be required to determine the best relative concentrations of white blood cells and platelets that deliver specific cytokines such as TGF-β. However, these results help identify a viable protocol for measuring PRP efficacy in tendinopathies.
- Lim W, Park SH, Kim B, Kang SW, Lee JW, Moon YL. Relationship of cytokine levels and clinical effect on platelet-rich plasma-treated lateral epicondylitis. J Orthop Res. 2018 Mar;36(3):913-920. doi: 10.1002/jor.23714. Epub 2017 Sep 20. PMID: 28851099
Lateral epicondylar tendinopathy (“tennis elbow”) that is refractory to the usual interventions of physical therapy/home-directed exercise, ice therapy, corticosteroid injections, and rest is a relatively common but very difficult clinical situation. Patients often become frustrated by the lack of improvement and want something to alleviate the pain and disability. However, the orthopaedic community has been reluctant to recommend surgical intervention except for the most severe cases because the outcomes of this surgery are not as predictable as we would like.
It is within this context that Creuzé et al., in the May 16, 2018 issue of The Journal, present results from a double-blind randomized trial elucidating the impact of low-dose Botulinum toxin injection on this chronic condition. Just over half of the patients treated with the Botulinum toxin injection (n = 29) had a >50% reduction in their initial pain intensity at day 90, and almost 20% felt completely cured. Those results were significantly better than those experienced by the group treated with placebo injections (n = 28).
Kudos to the industry sponsor of this study for supporting the double-blind design, because it removed a significant potential bias that might have otherwise tainted the results. The only fault I can find in the trial is a lack of reporting on the patients’ hand dominance and the magnitude of functional demand on their affected limbs. Before and after treatment, a patient who uses power tools with a dominant and affected limb during a physically demanding job may well have more severe symptoms than a person who works at a computer and whose dominant and affected limb is the “non-mouse” extremity.
It is rare indeed to find a study that blinds the administrator of an orthopaedic intervention, as injections and oral medications are not the most prominent tools in our predominantly surgical armamentarium. The inclusion criteria in the Creuzé et al. study reflected a realistic but difficult patient-enrollment scenario—a minimum of 6 months of symptoms (a mean of almost 19 months) despite previous attempts at all other well-known interventions. The fact that nearly all subjects in both groups had a previous steroid injection into the extensor carpi radialis brevis (ECRB) muscle and continued to experience symptoms confirms the difficulty of these cases and represents what many patients go through in search of an effective treatment.
Furthermore, the fact that only 50% of patients in the intervention group achieved significant pain relief reflects the refractory nature of this condition in many patients. These findings seem to indicate that surgical intervention will remain a necessary component of care for patients with lateral epicondylitis who are not cured by Botulinum toxin injection or other, more common treatment modalities—and that we should pay attention to improving surgical outcomes.
Marc Swiontkowski, MD
Medical economics has progressed to the point where musculoskeletal physicians and surgeons cannot ignore the financial implications of their decisions. Unfortunately, in most practice locations it is difficult, if not impossible, to ascertain the downstream costs to patients and insurers of our postsurgical orders for imaging, laboratory testing, and physical therapy (PT). In the April 18, 2018 issue of The Journal, Egol et al. present results from a well-designed and adequately powered randomized trial of outcomes after patients with minimally or nondisplaced radial head or neck fractures were referred either to outpatient PT or to a home exercise program focused on elbow motion.
At all follow-up time points (from 6 weeks to an average of 16.6 months), the authors found that patients receiving formal PT had DASH scores and time to clinical healing that were no better than the outcomes of those following the home exercise program. In fact, the study showed that after 6 weeks, patients following the home exercise program had a quicker improvement in DASH scores than those in the PT group.
The minor limitations with this study design (such as the potential for clinicians measuring elbow motion becoming aware of the treatment arm to which the patient was assigned) should not prevent us from implementing these findings immediately into practice. Each patient going to physical therapy in this scenario would have cost the healthcare system an estimated $800 to $2,400.
I wonder how many other pre- and postsurgical decisions that we routinely make would change if we had similar investigations into the value of ordering postoperative hemoglobin levels, surgical treatment of minimally displaced distal fibular fractures, routine postoperative radiographs for uncomplicated hand and wrist fractures, and PT after routine carpal tunnel release. These are just some of the reflexive decisions we make on a daily basis that probably have little to no value when it comes to patient outcomes. Whenever possible, we need to think about the downstream costs of such decisions and support the appropriate scientific evaluation of these commonly accepted, but possibly misguided, practices.
Marc Swiontkowski, MD