OrthoBuzz occasionally receives posts from guest bloggers. This guest post comes from Leon S. Benson, MD.
Appropriate Use Criteria (AUC) are suggested treatment algorithms for a variety of common orthopaedic conditions, published by the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.
These algorithms follow logically from the AAOS’s earlier work in publishing Clinical Practice Guidelines, and the methodology behind development of Appropriate Use Criteria is available in great detail on the AAOS website.
It is clear that the recent creation of Appropriate Use Criteria for carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS), like the other AUC algorithms, was very thoughtful and included the input of numerous experts. It is also clear that these criteria reflect an enormous amount of time and energy on the part of the AUC workgroup in attempting to reflect the best available evidence in managing carpal tunnel syndrome, while also allowing reasonable latitude in judgment on the part of the treating clinician.
The CTS AUC, like all AAOS AUC, are available as a downloadable application for virtually any computer or mobile platform. Using the AUC app is simple. The clinician selects items that correspond to elements of the patient’s history, physical examination, and testing/imaging findings, and then the AUC app categorizes various treatment (and/or workup) options as “appropriate,” “may be appropriate,” or “rarely appropriate.”
However, a few quirks of the CTS AUC may annoy some experienced clinicians. For example, in grading the patient’s history, the app requires that the clinician use either the Katz Hand Symptom Diagram or the CTS-6 history survey. I doubt that most seasoned hand surgeons routinely use these history tools unless their patient is enrolled in a research study. Additionally, the CTS-6 history survey lists “nocturnal numbness” as a choice; carpal tunnel patients typically report nocturnal pain that awakens them from sleep, not numbness (which is usually noticed upon awakening in the morning). In fact, nocturnal pain is probably the most reliable historical detail in confirming carpal tunnel syndrome. The CTS-6 criteria also give considerable weight to the presence of a positive Phalen’s test and Tinel’s sign even though these findings are commonly present in patients who have no pathology. The absence of these physical findings in patients who are suspected of carpal tunnel syndrome is probably more meaningful.
For the most part, though, the CTS AUC get a lot right about currently accepted treatment pathways for carpal tunnel syndrome. Playing around with the app, I was unable to create a combination of history, physical findings, and test data that produced treatment options with which I couldn’t agree. Furthermore, the AUC permit enough latitude in treatment recommendations to encompass the personal preferences of the vast majority of hand surgeons.
But perhaps the most compelling question is — why do we need an AUC app in the first place? Doctors crave autonomy for many reasons, not the least of which are the extreme time commitment and intellectual demands of medical training, including residency and fellowship. Furthermore, orthopaedic judgment is refined through years of practical experience accrued over the course of a career. How can that be simulated with a simplified decision tree that boils everything down to a handful of categories? And few fellowship-trained hand surgeons will immediately like the idea of an amorphous body of “experts” coming up with an iPhone app to tell them how to treat carpal tunnel syndrome.
However, there is another, critically important theme to the AUC story. Our colleagues who contribute their expertise to the AAOS AUC projects are actually providing a huge service to orthopaedic patients nationwide. As health-care delivery in the United States evolves, third-party payors and policy decision-makers are demanding that treatments be evidence based and consistent with expert consensus of “best practices.” If doctors themselves do not weigh in on this topic, stakeholders who are neither patients nor providers will make up the rules. Most certainly, that would be less optimal for patients than physician experts helping craft treatment parameters, even if the parameters so created are not perfect or applicable to every imaginable clinical scenario.
With this perspective in mind, the CTS AUC have achieved reasonable goals, and they support most of the commonly recommended treatment approaches to managing carpal tunnel syndrome. More importantly, the AUC-development process allows the community of orthopaedic specialists to have a seat at the table when value-based medicine is demanded, as it should be, by both our patients and policy-makers.
Although my pride might be a little bruised when I imagine practicing medicine by checking off boxes on a mobile app, I can handle it if it strengthens the identity of orthopaedic surgeons as leaders in doing what’s best for our patients.
Leon S. Benson, MD is chief of the Division of Hand Surgery at NorthShore University Healthsystem, professor of clinical orthopaedic surgery at the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine, and a hand surgeon at the Illinois Bone and Joint Institute. He is also a JBJS associate editor.
OrthoBuzz occasionally receives posts from guest bloggers. This guest post comes from Grigory Gershkovich, MD.
Shoulder arthroplasty continues to grow in popularity, and as the number of shoulder arthroplasties rises, so will the number of revisions. Infection is one major reason for shoulder arthroplasty failure, and Propionibacterium has been increasingly recognized as a major culprit.
However, Propionibacterium infection is difficult to diagnose. Despite improved detection techniques, diagnosis at the time of revision remains elusive because obvious signs of acute infection are often absent. The need to perform explantation in the setting of clinically apparent periprosthetic infection is obvious, but the appropriateness of single-stage revision with antibiotic treatment in shoulders with only apparent mechanical failures remains questionable.
Hsu et al. attempted to address this question in a study published in the December 21, 2016 issue of JBJS. The group retrospectively reviewed the outcomes of 55 shoulders that underwent revision arthroplasty due to continued pain, stiffness, or component loosening without obvious clinical infection. Mean follow up was 48 months. At least five cultures were obtained intraoperatively during each revision, and each case was treated with antibiotics as if were truly infected until the final culture results were received after three weeks. Shoulders were revised to either hemi-arthroplasty, total shoulder arthroplasty, or reverse total shoulder arthroplasty.
Hsu et al. analyzed outcomes according to two groups: the positive cohort (n=27), where shoulders had ≥ 2 cultures positive for Propionibacterium, and the control cohort (n=28), where shoulders had either 0 or 1 positive culture. The two groups were compared by before- and after-revision performance on the simple shoulder test (SST) and pain outcome scores.
Both groups improved postoperatively based on these patient-reported outcome measures, and no significant difference was found between the two groups. Three patients in each group required a return to the OR. Gastrointestinal side effects were the most commonly reported complication from prolonged antibiotic administration.
This study design was limited by its retrospective nature and the lack of a two-stage revision treatment comparison group. Furthermore, this study included only patients with no signs of clinical infection, and the findings may not be applicable to patients with perioperative signs of infection. The study also incorporated three revision surgery implant options, which could have influenced postoperative SST and pain scores. Larger, multicenter controlled trials will be needed to produce a more definitive answer to this complicated question.
Still, there are clear benefits of single-stage revision over two-stage revision, especially with regard to operative time, anesthesia risks, and patient recovery. Given the wide antibiotic sensitivity profile of Propionibacterium and these initial results from Hsu et al., single-stage revision with appropriate antibiotic therapy may be suitable for patients undergoing revision shoulder arthroplasty in the setting of suspected Propionibacterium infection.
Grigory Gershkovich, MD is chief resident at Albert Einstein Medical Center in Philadelphia. He will complete a hand fellowship at the University of Chicago in 2017-2018.
OrthoBuzz occasionally receives posts from guest bloggers. This guest post comes from Brett A. Freedman, MD.
In the December 21, 2016 edition of the Journal of Bone & Joint Surgery, Bunta, et al. published an analysis of data from the Own the Bone quality improvement program collected between January 1, 2010 and March 31, 2015. Over this period of time, 125 sites prospectively collected detailed osteoporosis and bone health-related data points on men and women over the age of 50 who presented with a fragility fracture.
The Own the Bone initiative is more than a data registry; it’s a quality improvement program intended to provide a paradigm for increasing the diagnostic and therapeutic recognition (i.e. “response rate”) of the osteoporosis underlying fragility fractures among orthopaedic practices that treat these injuries. With more than 23,000 individual patients enrolled, and almost 10,000 follow-up records, this is the most robust dataset in existence on the topic.
This initiative has more than doubled the response rate among orthopaedic practices treating fragility fractures. The number of institutions implementing Own the Bone grew from 14 sites in 2005-6 to 177 in 2015. According to Bunta et al., 53% of patients enrolled in the Own the Bone quality Improvement program received bone mineral density testing and/or osteoporosis therapy following their fracture.
Own the Bone was a natural progression of rudimentary efforts that came about during the Bone and Joint Decade, and it marks a strategic effort on the part of the American Orthopedic Association to identify and treat the osteoporosis underlying fragility fractures. Multiple studies have demonstrated that only 1 out of every 4 to 5 patients who present with a fragility fracture will receive a clinical diagnosis of osteoporosis and/or active treatment to prevent secondary fractures related to osteoporosis. Ample Level-1 evidence demonstrates that the initiation of first-line agents like bisphosphonates, or second-line agents when indicated, can reduce the chance of a subsequent fragility fracture by at least 50%. We know these medicines work.
We also know that osteoporosis is a progressive phenomenon. Therefore, failing to respond to the osteoporosis underlying fragility fractures means we as a medical system fail to treat the root cause in these patients. The fracture is a symptom of an underlying disease that needs to be addressed or it will continue to produce recurrent fractures and progressive decline in overall health.
The members of the Own the Bone initiative must be commended for their admirable work. We as an orthopedic community need to attempt to incorporate lessons learned through the Own the Bone experience into our practice to ensure that we provide complete care to those with a fragility fracture. The report from Bunta et al. represents a large—but single—step forward on the journey toward universal recognition and treatment of the diminished bone quality underlying fragility fractures. I look forward to additional reports from this group detailing their continued success in raising the bar of understanding and intervention.
Brett A. Freedman, MD is an orthopaedic surgeon specializing in spine trauma and degenerative spinal diseases at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN.
OrthoBuzz occasionally receives posts from guest bloggers. This guest post comes from Richard Yoon, MD and Grigory Gershkovich, MD.
The AAOS recently reviewed the evidence for surgical management of osteoarthritis of the knee (SMOAK) and issued a set of appropriate use criteria (AUC) that help determine the appropriateness of clinical practice guidelines (CPGs). These AUC can be accessed on the OrthoGuidelines website: www.orthoguidelines.org/auc.
The AUC were developed after a panel of specialists reviewed the 2015 CPGs on SMOAK and made appropriateness assessments for a multitude of clinical scenarios and treatments. The panel found 21% of the voted-on items “appropriate”; 25% were designated “maybe appropriate,” and 54% were ranked as “rarely appropriate.”
Importantly, these AUC do not provide a substitute for surgical decision making. The physician should always determine treatment on an individual basis, ideally with the patient fully engaged in the decision.
This OrthoBuzz post summarizes some of the updated conclusions according to three clinical time points—pre-operative, peri-operative, and postoperative—specifying the strength of supporting evidence. This post is not intended to review appropriateness for every clinical scenario. We encourage physicians to explore the OrthoGuidelines website for complete AUC information.
Strong evidence: Obese patients exhibit minimal improvement after total knee arthroplasty
(TKA), and such patients should be counseled accordingly.
Moderate evidence: Diabetic patients have a higher risk of complications after TKA.
Moderate evidence: An 8-month delay to TKA does not worsen outcomes.
Strong evidence: Both peri-articular local anesthetics and peripheral nerve blocks decrease postoperative pain and opioid requirements.
Moderate evidence: Neuraxial anesthesia may decrease complication rates and improve select peri-operative outcomes.
Moderate evidence: Judicious use of tourniquets decreases blood loss, but tourniquets may also increase short-term post-operative pain.
Strong evidence: The use of tranexamic acid (TXA) reduces post-operative blood loss and the need for transfusions.
Strong evidence: Drains do not help reduce complications or improve outcomes.
Strong evidence: There is no difference in outcomes between cruciate-retaining and posterior stabilized implants.
Strong evidence: All-polyethylene and modular components yield similar outcomes.
Strong, moderate, and limited evidence to support either cemented or cementless techniques, as similar outcomes and complication rates were found.
Strong evidence: There is no difference in pain/function with patellar resurfacing.
Moderate evidence: Patellar resurfacing decreases 5-year re-operation rates.
Moderate evidence shows no difference between unicompartmental knee arthroplasty (UKA) and high tibial osteotomy (HTO).
Moderate evidence favors TKA over UKA to avoid future revisions.
Strong evidence against the use of intraoperative navigation and patient-specific instrumentation, as no difference in outcomes has been observed.
Strong evidence: Rehab/PT started on day of surgery reduces length of stay.
Moderate evidence: Rehab/PT started on day of surgery reduces pain and improves function.
Strong evidence: The use of continuous passive motion machines does not improve outcomes after TKA.
Richard Yoon, MD is a fellow in orthopaedic traumatology and complex adult reconstruction at Orlando Regional Medical Center.
Grigory Gershkovich, MD is chief resident at Albert Einstein Medical Center in Philadelphia. He will be completing a hand fellowship at the University of Chicago in 2017-2018.
OrthoBuzz occasionally receives posts from guest bloggers. In response to a recent JAMA study, the following two commentaries come from Chad Krueger, MD, and Shahriar Rahman, MS.
“Hmmm…. Maybe I’m operating on too many ankle fractures.” That was my first thought as I read the abstract of the recent Willett et al. study in JAMA. They conducted a well-designed, randomized controlled trial that compared operative and nonoperative treatment of unstable ankle fractures, using the Olerud-Molander Ankle Score at 6 months postoperatively as the primary outcome measure.
On the surface, it appeared as though patients who were treated nonoperatively with close contact casting did just as well as those who underwent operative intervention. This seemed to be not only the case with the primary outcome measure, but also with secondary outcomes such as quality of life, pain, and patient satisfaction. “Do less” appeared to be the main message of the abstract. However, I became more skeptical after critically reading the entire article.
First off, the study was designed to determine differences between treatment groups, not to prove that they were equivalent. Finding no difference is not the same as showing equivalence, and the article did the former, not the latter.
There are also a few things about the study that may limit the wide applicability of the findings and provide some solace to surgeons like me who feel that fixing unstable ankle fractures provides superior outcomes. First, only initial radiographs were used to determine who had unstable ankle fractures. Stress radiographs were an exclusion criterion, so for the many ankle fractures that require such imaging to determine instability, the results from Willett et al. may not apply.
Second, the study was designed to compare these treatments in older adults. The mean ages of operative and nonoperative groups were 69.8 and 71.4 years old, respectively, and almost 75% of both groups were female. While bone density was not measured in either group, it is likely that many patients included in this study had osteoporotic disease, which introduces another potential variable when interpreting the findings.
Furthermore, nearly 20 percent of all patients who initially were treated with casting developed some type of complication that required conversion to surgical fixation. This finding, plus the fact that all casts were applied by surgeons in the operating room with patients under general or spinal anesthesia, suggests that treating unstable ankle fractures with surgical fixation in a single visit would perhaps provide the most definitive treatment.
So, I will probably continue to offer patients with unstable ankle fractures surgical fixation. I have never tried the close contact casting that was described in the article, and I suspect, despite the authors’ claim of evidence to the contrary, that there is a significant learning curve associated with that technique. If about one out of every five patients I perform casting on as definitive treatment ends up needing additional procedures, I am not sure I have done the patient justice. While this study provides interesting evidence and may apply to a small subset of my older patients, I think it has limited applicability in other patients who present with unstable ankle fractures.
Chad Krueger, MD is a military orthopaedic surgeon at Womack Army Medical Center in Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
* * * *
The Willett et al. study in JAMA indicates that some patients older than 60 years with unstable ankle fractures can be treated by modified casting alone, without the need for operative stabilization and fixation. The study protocol allowed conversion to surgery among patients randomized to casting if reduction was not possible during the initial procedure or was lost within the first 3 weeks.
One hundred surgeons applied close contact casting at 24 major trauma centers and general hospitals in the UK. After 6 months, the mean Olerud-Molander Ankle Score was 66.0 in the surgery group vs 64.5 in the casting group—no significant difference in the primary outcome.
Secondary outcomes showed that the rate of radiographic malunion was 15% in the casting group compared with 3% in the surgery group. Conversion from casting to operative treatment was high: of the 311 patients randomized to casting, 70 (23%) were ultimately treated by internal fixation, including 18 never treated with close contact casting and 52 who lost reduction and required conversion to internal fixation. Rates of infection and wound complications were 10% in the surgical group versus 1% in the casting group. Additional operating room procedures were required in 6% of the surgery group and 1% of the casting group. Casting required less operating room time compared with surgery.
The overall similarity in clinical outcomes in this study challenges the importance of restoring exact ankle-joint congruence in older adults and suggests that function and pain are not as closely related to malunion as many clinicians believe. Neither method yielded an entirely satisfactory outcome in older adults. In older patients with lower demand, shorter life expectancy, lesser bone and tissue quality, and diminished capacity for healing, the rates of delayed or infected wound healing and loss of implant fixation are greater.
Casting may be an imperfect alternative to surgery particularly in developing countries. One must remember, however, that plaster technique is an art. Achieving the successful outcomes with close contact casting as described by Willett et al. is likely to pose a learning curve. Further studies are needed to identify which specific patients are most and least likely to benefit from casting.
Shahriar Rahman, MS is a consultant orthopaedic surgeon at the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare in Bangladesh.
OrthoBuzz occasionally receives posts from guest bloggers. This guest post comes from Grigory Gershkovich, MD and Shahriar Rahman, MS.
Recovery after surgery is an outcome that matters to everyone. The concept of enhanced recovery after surgery (ERAS) was first introduced in 1997 in Denmark by general surgeon Henrik Kehlet. The key objective is to accelerate postoperative recovery, reduce the length of hospital stay, and improve patient experience and clinical outcomes.
There are four key elements to ERAS:
- Optimizing preoperative care – The patient, surgeon, anesthesiologist, and nurses form a single team. A preoperative plan and classes help patients manage expectations.
- Reducing the physical stress of surgery –This may include minimally invasive techniques, reduced surgical times, optimized anesthetic techniques (e.g., spinal anesthesia or blocks), and maintenance of normovolemia. Traditionally, patients have nothing by mouth for many hours prior to surgery. ERAS, however, allows patients to receive clear fluids by mouth up to two hours prior to the operation. This practice has proven to be of limited risk and may better optimize fluid balance perioperatively.
- Enhancing postoperative comfort – This entails effective multimodal analgesia and prophylaxis against nausea. Narcotics are minimized, especially in elderly patients. A well-structured and consistent plan is developed among the patient, physicians, nurses, social workers, family/ caretakers, and physical therapists. Orthopaedic-floor staff standardize protocols to provide consistent, structured care with well-defined roles.
- Optimizing postoperative care – Early mobilization, normal feeding and hydration, and unambiguous discharge and post-discharge instructions are the goals here. Many ERAS programs also employ a Bring Your Own Gum initiative. Evidence suggests that chewing gum diminishes postoperative gastrointestinal dysfunction by preserving efferent vagal nerve activity, even when the surgical procedure did not involve the gastrointestinal tract.
The ERAS protocol was used initially in colorectal patients. A 2014 ERAS pilot of colorectal patients at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital found lower rates of complications after surgery. Cardiac events dropped by as much as 90 percent; there were 66 percent fewer surgical site infections, and patients left the hospital two days earlier on average. The Brigham is expanding ERAS guidelines to at least three other departments, and a study by Dwyer et al. in 2012 found that ERAS benefits seem to be universal and confer an advantage regardless of the patient’s preoperative condition.
Elective total joint arthroplasty (TJA) is one area of orthopaedics that has adopted several principles of ERAS. Reilly et al. (2005) were able to show that ERAS is beneficial in the treatment of patients undergoing unicompartmental knee replacement. As ERAS adoption increases among the orthopaedic surgery specialty, it is reasonable that its implementation may extend to subspecialties beyond TJA, such as hip fractures and upper extremity surgery. Macfie et al. (2012) demonstrated ERAS benefits in patients with a fractured femoral neck.
The improvements to quality of care and efficiency that are gained by implementing ERAS programs are largely due to changes in the underlying organizational structure of hospitals. To make further progress in orthopaedic care, we have to not only introduce new interventions that are proven beneficial, but also (and perhaps more importantly) stop doing things that are not beneficial and may even cause harm to patients.
Grigory Gershkovich, MD is chief resident at Albert Einstein Medical Center in Philadelphia. He will be completing a hand fellowship at the University of Chicago in 2017-2018.
Shahriar Rahman, MS is a consultant orthopaedic surgeon at the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare in Bangladesh.
OrthoBuzz occasionally receives posts from guest bloggers. This guest post comes from Brett A. Freedman, MD, in response to a study published in JAMA about a new agent to prevent fractures in postmenopausal women with osteoporosis.
The August 16, 2016 issue of JAMA published the results of the ACTIVE (Abaloparatide Comparator Trial In Vertebral Endpoints) trial. This 28-site randomized trial allocated postmenopausal women with low bone mineral density (BMD) and/or a prior fragility fracture into one of three arms: abaloparatide (80 µg subcutaneously, daily ) vs. daily placebo injection vs. teriparatide (20 µg subcutaneously, daily). The primary end point was new vertebral fracture over the 18-month trial.
As expected, both anabolic agents significantly outperformed placebo, with incident vertebral fractures occurring in only 4 subjects in the abaloparatide arm (0.6%) and 6 in the teriparatide arm (0.8%), while there were 30 in the placebo arm (4.2%). Although the study was not powered to evaluate differences between the two anabolic agents, the results suggest that abaloparatide and teriparatide performed essentially the same over the 18-month period.
In an accompanying commentary,1 Cappola and Shoback note that institutional review boards (IRBs) approved a prospective clinical trial protocol in which patients with known osteoporosis and/or a prior fragility fracture were allowed to be randomized to a non-treatment arm for 18 months. Subjects whose BMD dropped more than 7% from baseline and those who experienced an incident fracture during the trial “were offered an option to discontinue and receive alternative treatment,” but in some sense IRB approval of this protocol implicitly acknowledged that osteoporosis is undertreated.
Turning back to the study itself, I noted with interest that subjects who had regularly used bisphosphonates in the last 5 years or denosumab in the last year were excluded. So, none of the 2463 subjects who were randomized had received any active treatment for osteoporosis in the 1 to 5 years prior to enrollment, despite the fact that the average T-score in the lumbar spine (-2.9 for all 3 arms) was in the osteoporotic range and that almost one-third of subjects had had at least one prior fragility fracture.
This is a sad commentary on “our” (meaning all providers involved in bone health) continued inability to diagnose and treat osteoporosis effectively. Despite the “National Bone and Joint Health Decade” (2002-2011) and our continued attempts to “Own the Bone,” we have made little progress in recognizing and treating the osteoporosis underlying the fragility fractures that we so frequently treat. Colleagues of mine and I published that only 38% of patients in 2002 with clinically diagnosed vertebral compression fragility fractures were receiving active treatment for osteoporosis.2 Over the ensuing decade, Solomon et al. showed that that figure actually decreased to 20%.3
This JAMA study provides empiric Level-I support for the efficacy of another anabolic agent to treat osteoporosis. Cost, subcutaneous delivery, and osteosarcoma concerns have limited the only FDA-approved anabolic osteoporosis medication, teriparatide, to second-line status, behind bisphosphonates. If and when approved, abaloparatide will probably bump up against the same limitations. Still, the parathyroid hormone receptor agonists are particularly pertinent to orthopaedic surgeons, because they are the most effective secondary fracture prevention agents—and the only ones that show meaningful improvement in bone mineral density. This bone-building property has also led to progressive acceptance of teriparatide as an important perioperative adjunct for instrumented spinal fusion surgery in patients with known osteoporosis.
However, as has been repeatedly shown, parathyroid receptor agonists only work when they are prescribed, and they are only prescribed when osteoporosis is diagnosed.2,3 Patients with incident clinical fragility fractures need to be effectively educated about osteoporosis, its treatment, and the impact of failing to treat it. Orthopaedic surgeons need to continue to set the signal flares and advocate for our patients to receive effective treatment for all their chronic musculoskeletal illnesses, not the least of which is osteoporosis.
- Cappola AR, Shoback DM. Osteoporosis Therapy in Postmenopausal Women With High Risk of Fracture. JAMA. 2016 Aug 16;316(7):715-6.
- Freedman BA, Potter BK, Nesti LJ, Giuliani JR, Hampton C, Kuklo TR. Osteoporosis and vertebral compression fractures-continued missed opportunities.Spine J. 2008 Sep-Oct;8(5):756-62.
- Solomon DH, Johnston SS, Boytsov NN, McMorrow D, Lane JM, Krohn KD. Osteoporosis medication use after hip fracture in U.S. patients between 2002 and 2011. J Bone Miner Res. 2014 Sep;29(9):1929-37.
OrthoBuzz occasionally receives posts from guest bloggers. This guest post comes from Chad Krueger, MD, in response to an Annals of Internal Medicine study investigating the effectiveness of tai chi for treating knee osteoarthritis (OA).
We have put men on the moon, but we still have no cure for the osteoarthritis that affects millions of Americans. We try a variety of injections and other conservative measures to help slow the progression of the disease, but at some point arthritis wins. Undaunted, we search for new modalities of easing the disability the disease brings to our patients in hopes of offering an effective treatment.
That is why I read with interest the recent study “Comparative Effectiveness of Tai Chi Versus Physical Therapy for Knee Osteoarthritis” in the Annals of Internal Medicine. I have many patients with debilitating knee arthritis who are not quite ready to embark on a joint replacement until they feel they have exhausted all other options. I have never referred a patient to tai chi, so would this provide another avenue for those patients to explore?
In this trial, 200 patients were randomized to either 24 total tai chi classes or standard physical therapy sessions (12 sessions at the PT office followed by six weeks of monitored home exercise). The primary outcome measure was the WOMAC score. After following the patients for a year, the researchers found that both groups had substantial improvements in their WOMAC scores, along with improvements in four secondary outcome measures: physical function, quality of life, depression, and medication usage. The one notable between-group difference was that the tai chi group had significantly greater improvements in depression and quality of life.
It’s clear that increasing physical activity, within reasonable bounds, helps patients with knee arthritis in many ways. Whether that extra activity comes from a tai chi class or a structured physical therapy program may not matter. However, it is possible that the tai chi classes (and other group-based physical activity programs) have social benefits that standard physical therapy does not—and that the patients in the tai chi classes may have benefited substantially from that social connection. Many studies, including those of the Lower Extremity Assessment Project (LEAP) cohort, have shown the power that social and psychological factors can have on a patient’s outcome. It’s not surprising that similarly positive social effects would be found in patients with knee osteoarthritis.
Still, not everyone with knee osteoarthritis will want or be able to attend a group class, so such a treatment option is not universally applicable. However, these findings should provoke orthopaedic surgeons and payers to consider seriously the social and emotional aspects of OA treatments. Tai chi is certainly not a “moonshot” solution to knee osteoarthritis, but then again, what is?
Chad Krueger, MD is a military orthopaedic surgeon at Womack Army Medical Center in Fort Bragg, NC.
OrthoBuzz occasionally receives posts from guest bloggers. This guest post comes from Christopher E. Gross, MD, in response to the May 18, 2016 JBJS Specialty Update on Foot and Ankle Surgery.
Ankle arthritis occurs along a spectrum of severity—ranging from minor cartilage lesions to significant degenerative disease.
To preserve ankle function and to prevent possible evolution into arthritic changes, osteochondral lesions should be treated as soon as they become symptomatic. In one prospective cohort study summarized by Lin and Yeranosian in the May 18, 2016 JBJS Specialty Update, thirty patients with talar osteochondral lesions underwent arthroscopic implantation of bone marrow-derived cells onto a collagen scaffold. Patients who received adjunctive biophysical stimulation by pulsed electromagnetic fields (PEMFs) had higher AOFAS scores at one year post-operatively than those who did not.1 The proposed explanation for this outcome is that PEMFs decrease inflammatory cytokines and help differentiate stem cells into chondrocytes.
Total ankle replacements (TARs) have become a viable surgical option for patients with end-stage ankle arthritis. In a study comparing patients undergoing TAR with those undergoing arthrodesis,2 TAR patients had higher expectations of their surgery than fusion patients and were more likely to have higher satisfaction scores post-operatively. In a functional comparison of TAR and arthrodesis, Jastifer, et al. found that patients who received a TAR had an easier time walking uphill and down/upstairs.3 In another study evaluating functional biomechanics following TAR surgery, groups whose procedure included Achilles tendon lengthening were compared to those who had TAR alone.4 There were no between-group differences in functional outcomes or gait mechanics.
In a study comparing results and complications of TAR in patients with rheumatoid arthritis to patients who had ankle replacements due to either traumatic or primary arthritis, the authors found similar functional outcomes and complication rates.
Despite these many examples of TAR success in the recent literature, the procedure is not without its shortcomings. Rahm, et al.5 compared patients who underwent primary ankle fusion to those who underwent salvage ankle arthrodesis because of a failed TAR. Those who had a salvage procedure had more pain and decreased functionality compared to those who underwent a primary fusion.
Christopher E. Gross, MD is an orthopaedic surgeon specializing in foot and ankle disorders at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston.
- Cadossi M, Buda RE, Ramponi L, Sambri A, Natali S, Giannini S. Bone marrow-derived cells and biophysical stimulation for talar osteochondral lesions: a randomized controlled study. Foot Ankle Int. 2014 Oct;35(10):981-7.
- Younger AS, Wing KJ, Glazebrook M, Daniels TR, Dryden PJ, Lalonde KA, et al. Patient expectation and satisfaction as measures of operative outcome in end-stage ankle arthritis: a prospective cohort study of total ankle replacement versus ankle fusion. Foot Ankle Int. 2015 Feb;36(2):123-34.
- Jastifer J, Coughlin MJ, Hirose C. Performance of total ankle arthroplasty and ankle arthrodesis on uneven surfaces, stairs, and inclines: a prospective study. Foot Ankle Int. 2015 Jan;36(1):11-7.
- Queen RM, Grier AJ, Butler RJ, Nunley JA, Easley ME, Adams SB, Jr., et al. The influence of concomitant triceps surae lengthening at the time of total ankle arthroplasty on postoperative outcomes. Foot Ankle Int. 2014 Sep;35(9):863-70.
- Rahm S, Klammer G, Benninger E, Gerber F, Farshad M, Espinosa N. Inferior results of salvage arthrodesis after failed ankle replacement compared to primary arthrodesis. Foot Ankle Int. 2015 Apr;36(4):349-59.