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Preventing VTE in Below-the-Knee Surgery

Venous thromboembolism (VTE) following hip fractures and hip/knee arthroplasty—both deep vein thrombosis (DVT) and pulmonary embolism (PE)—has been relatively well studied. We therefore have a fairly clear understanding what the risks for DVT and PE are with no treatment as well as with modern preventive chemotherapeutic agents. However, such clarity on the need for and effectiveness of VTE prophylaxis is lacking for below-the-knee (BTK) orthopaedic procedures. This is largely due to the fact that such procedures have been deemed “low risk”—despite a dearth of supporting evidence for that assumption. In the March 20, 2019 issue of The Journal, Heijboer et al. used a sophisticated propensity score matching methodology to evaluate the rate of VTE in >10,000 BTK surgery patients at their tertiary care referral center.

The authors evaluated patients who underwent orthopaedic surgery distal to the proximal tibial articular surface, including foot/ankle procedures, open reduction of lower-leg fractures, and BTK amputations. They performed propensity score matching to compare 5,286 patients who received any type of chemotherapeutic prophylaxis with the same number who did not, across several key risk categories. The good news is that VTE prophylaxis effectively lowered the risk of symptomatic DVT or PE from 1.9% to 0.7% (odds ratio of 0.38, p <0.001).

Unfortunately (but not surprisingly), this effectiveness came at the price of increased systemic or local bleeding among patients using chemical VTE prophylaxis, with an incidence of 1.0% in the no-prophylaxis group and 2.2% in the prophylaxis group (odds ratio of 2.18, p <0.001). The authors did not assess the incidence of deep infection or hematoma formation, which often accompany increased local bleeding. The low overall incidence of VTE and bleeding did not allow for subgroup analysis according to location of surgery, and aspirin use was not controlled for in their study. In addition, Heijboer et al. used hospital coding data, and the accuracy of the database was not assessed.

The authors recommend that “anticoagulant prophylaxis be reserved only for patient groups who are deemed to be at high risk for VTE,” but we still don’t know precisely who is at high risk among BTK surgery patients. It is my hope that these findings will prompt large, prospective multicenter trials in the foot and ankle community to better determine which types of patients should be exposed to an increased risk of postoperative bleeding complications in order to achieve a clinically important decreased risk of VTE with chemical prophylaxis.

Marc Swiontkowski, MD
JBJS Editor-in-Chief

2018 EST Awards: And the Winners Are…

JBJS Essential Surgical Techniques (EST)  and The Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery (JBJS) give out two annual awards–one for the best Subspecialty Procedure (SP) article, and the other for the best Key Procedures (KP) video published during each calendar year.

We are pleased to announce the winners for 2018:

Full open access to both articles is available for a limited time.

Submissions for the 2019 EST Awards are currently being accepted.

Letting Go of the Script

OrthoBuzz occasionally receives posts from guest bloggers. In response to a recent New England Journal of Medicine Perspectivethe following commentary comes from Adam Bitterman, DO.

The physician-patient relationship is highly regarded and has withstood the test of time. Unfortunately, today it appears to be under significant stress. While it is still possible to maintain a meaningful and professional doctor-patient connection, the balance between arriving at a correct diagnosis, moving down your patient list, and truly caring for each individual patient is difficult to find. The advent of electronic medical records (and their attendant task lists and button clicking) and satisfaction scores have not made maintaining meaningful patient relationships any easier.

In her February 7, 2019 Perspective piece for The New England Journal of Medicine, cardiologist Dr. Lisa Rosenbaum describes her encounters with the medical system as a patient after sustaining a Jones fracture. As she highlights her experience from the initial presentation in the emergency department to the follow-up examination with an orthopedic surgeon, she describes the repeated sensation of being a diagnosis treated by an algorithm rather than an individual with an ailment receiving care.

She also highlights an anecdote about another patient’s family pleading with a staff physician to “get off your script” and focus on treating the unique patient. Invoking the legacy of Sir Robert Jones, the orthopaedist after whom the foot fracture is named, Dr. Rosenbaum observes that “medicine teeters atop an edifice of workarounds,” as physicians try to play by the rules while taking good care of patients.

Standardization and treatment protocols have a useful role in many instances, but we physicians must remember that behind every complaint is a patient, an individual with personal connections to friends and family. It is easy to get caught up in the standardized protocols that reside within electronic medical records, but it takes only a moment to disconnect yourself from the screen and keyboard and provide the creative connection that patients desire. (A study in the upcoming February 20, 2019 JBJS addresses this topic.)

Although you may be encountering your seventh patient of the day with a Jones fracture, for each of those people, their foot is all that matters. It is our job—a decidedly difficult one—to provide the unique and sometimes creative treatment plan to all our patients, while somehow maintaining a top-tier standard of care that is reproducible for all.

Adam Bitterman, DO is a fellowship-trained foot and ankle surgeon practicing at Northwell Health in Huntington, NY. He is also a member of the JBJS Social Media Advisory Board.

Smoking, Depression Adversely Affect Outcomes after TAA

After some relatively poor results in the 1980s, there was a “reboot” with total ankle arthroplasty (TAA) in the late 1990s to improve outcomes so that TAA would provide a reliable treatment for patients with end-stage ankle arthritis. Advances in the understanding of the biomechanical requirements for ankle prostheses and which patients might benefit from them the most—plus the realization  that TAA is a technically demanding surgical procedure that requires advanced education—have vastly improved the outcomes of these procedures. In fact, TAA has become reliable enough that we can now begin to tease out the patient variables that seem to affect outcomes.

In the February 6, 2019 issue of The Journal, Cunningham et al. use an extensive clinical TAA registry to identify patient characteristics that impact TAA outcomes. The good news is that, 30-plus years after the inauspicious outcomes of first-generation TAA, overall pain and function significantly improved among the patients in this study. However, current smoking was associated with poorer patient outcomes at the 5-year follow-up, as it seems to be with the vast majority of orthopaedic procedures. Also, at a mean 1- to 2-year follow-up,  a previous surgical procedure on the ankle was associated with significantly smaller improvements in at least 1 patient-reported outcome. This makes sense because prior surgery leads to scarring and its attendant risk of infection and increased difficulty with exposure and the ideal placement of TAA components. Cunningham et al. also identified depression as being associated with worse TAA outcomes at all follow-up points, adding to our already ample body of evidence that patient psychological factors play a major role in orthopaedic surgical results.

Interestingly, these authors found that patients undergoing staged bilateral ankle arthroplasty did not do as well as those undergoing simultaneous bilateral TAAs. And somewhat surprisingly, the authors found obesity to be associated with better outcomes at the 5-year follow-up. This may be related to increased bone density and greater soft-tissue coverage, but this finding is still seemingly counterintuitive based on everything else we know about the negative associations between obesity and outcomes of other joint replacements.

As more surgeons and orthopaedic centers make use of TAA, it will be important for us to follow the lead of the total knee and total hip communities in providing large datasets to further clarify which factors—patient-related and surgical—lead to the best and worst patient outcomes. This study by Cunningham et al. provides a starting point upon which other research will hopefully build.

Marc Swiontkowski, MD
JBJS Editor-in-Chief

Surgeon Type and Outcomes After Inpatient Ankle Arthrodesis and Total Ankle Arthroplasty

Full Article

Background: Two main treatments for end-stage ankle arthritis are ankle arthrodesis and total ankle arthroplasty (TAA). While both procedures can be performed either by a foot and ankle orthopaedic surgeon or a podiatrist (when within a particular state’s scope of practice), studies comparing the surgical outcomes of the 2 surgeon types are lacking. Therefore, in this study, we compared outcomes by surgeon type for TAA and for ankle arthrodesis.

Ankle Surgery: Who Should Do It?

The relationship between orthopaedic foot and ankle surgeons and podiatric surgeons has been checkered. Many have advocated that the orthopaedic community should isolate itself from interaction with the podiatric community. Conversely, a smaller group of orthopaedic foot and ankle surgeons have recommended sharing CME endeavors with podiatric surgeons, and combining clinical services with them. As long as individual states continue to legislate surgeon scope-of-practice matters (38 states currently allow podiatric surgeons to perform ankle surgery), it seems to me that shared learning, combined clinical services, and collaborative research make the most sense for advancing foot and ankle care for as many patients as possible. We should all be willing to work with our surgical colleagues to improve everyone’s decision making and skill.

In the January 16, 2019  issue of The Journal, Chan et al. probe an administrative database to evaluate several outcomes after total ankle arthroplasty (TAA) and ankle arthrodesis performed by both types of surgeon. Probably because many podiatrists self-limit their practices to forefoot surgery, podiatric surgeons provided the treatment for only 18% of the patients in both ankle-surgery groups. When podiatrists were the primary surgeon, the authors found increased lengths of stay for both procedures and increased hospital costs for arthrodesis patients. The authors did not investigate the reasons for these increases, but they should be investigated in the future. Chan et al. did find that, in general, podiatric surgeons operated on sicker patients and tended to work in smaller, non-teaching hospitals.

The authors also found an increasing percentage of these procedures being performed by podiatrists over the period from 2011 to 2016. This is likely related to multiple factors, including variable availability of orthopaedic foot and ankle surgeons relative to podiatric surgeons in many communities, and an increased number of podiatry training programs that specialize in hindfoot surgery.

It seems to me that data like these from Chan et al. should be shared with both communities to foster discussions regarding how to optimize length of stay, costs, and patient outcomes across the board. The goal should always be to raise every surgeon’s level of care for the benefit of all patients.

Marc Swiontkowski, MD
JBJS Editor-in-Chief

Education, Guidelines, Willingness: Keys to Changing Opioid-Prescribing Habits

When planning for any type of surgical procedure, the orthopaedist considers many patient and injury-specific variables. With a distal radius fracture, for example, the main goal of the surgery—anatomic reconstruction of the distal radius—remains constant. However, there are numerous other variables (fracture morphology and patient age, just to name 2) that have to be considered to achieve that goal. Yet, when it comes to postoperative pain control, I imagine that most orthopaedic surgeons prescribe the same amount of opioids to almost every patient undergoing an open reduction/internal fixation of a distal radius fracture, regardless of unique patient characteristics. Our medical mantra that “no two patients are the same” seems to fall by the wayside when it comes to postoperative pain control.

This disconnect is what I thought about while reading the article by Stepan et al. in the January 2, 2019 issue of The Journal. The authors’ institution developed and disseminated to all prescribers a 1-hour opioid education program and consensus-based postoperative opioid prescription guidelines. They then compared the number of opioid pills and total oral morphine equivalents prescribed after 9 ambulatory procedures within 3 subspecialty services (sports medicine, hand, and foot and ankle) prior to and after implementation of the guidelines. Stepan et al. found a significant decrease  in the amount of narcotics prescribed after 6 of the 9 surgery types after implementation of the guidelines. Over the course of a year, those decreases would have equaled about 30,000 fewer opioid pills!

Interestingly, there was no significant post-guideline decrease in opioid prescribing after any of the 3 foot-and-ankle procedures. The authors attribute that finding to the slow adoption of the guidelines due to adherence to previously developed pain-management recommendations in this subspecialty.

It has become apparent that we tend to overprescribe opioids postoperatively (see related OrthoBuzz post). This study supports previous data showing that prescription guidelines can be useful in decreasing the amount of postoperative narcotics prescribed to patients, while maintaining adequate pain management and good levels of patient satisfaction.  While further work in developing educational tools and procedure-specific “standards” to help surgeons guide their postoperative prescribing practices would be useful, a surgeon’s mindfulness is equally important. We need first to recognize that orthopaedic surgeons tend to overprescribe postoperative opioids—and second, we must be willing to change our habits. Without both awareness and willingness, the best guidelines and recommendations will be ignored, and an opportunity for us to help curb the opioid crisis in our country will be wasted.

Chad A. Krueger, MD
JBJS Deputy Editor for Social Media

Outcomes of the Ponseti Method for Untreated Clubfeet in Nepalese Patients

Full Article

Background:
To our knowledge, there are no reports of the Ponseti method initiated after walking age and with >10 years of follow-up. Our goal was to report the clinical findings and patient-reported outcomes for children with a previously untreated idiopathic clubfoot who were seen when they were between 1 and 5 years old, were treated with the Ponseti method, and had a minimum follow-up of 10 years.

Multisite Evaluation of a Custom Energy-Storing Carbon Fiber Orthosis for Patients with Residual Disability After Lower-Limb Trauma

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The Intrepid Dynamic Exoskeletal Orthosis (IDEO) is a custom energy-storing carbon fiber ankle-foot orthosis developed for lower-extremity trauma patients. Studies conducted at the military treatment facility where the IDEO was developed demonstrated benefits of the IDEO when used with the Return to Run Physical Therapy (RTR PT) program. The current study was designed to determine if results could be replicated at other military treatment facilities and to examine whether early performance gains in patient-reported functional outcomes remained at 12 months.

Botulinum Toxin Type A Versus Placebo for Idiopathic Clubfoot

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Background: Congenital idiopathic clubfoot is a condition that affects, on average, approximately 1 in 1,000 infants. One broadly adopted method of management, described by Ponseti, is the performance of a percutaneous complete tenotomy when hindfoot stall occurs. The use of onabotulinum toxin A (BTX-A) along with the manipulation and cast protocol described by Ponseti has been previously reported. Our goal was to compare the clinical outcomes between BTX-A and placebo injections into the gastrocnemius-soleus muscle at the time of hindfoot stall in infants with idiopathic clubfoot treated with the Ponseti method of manipulation and cast changes.