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Using Registries to Investigate Rare Diseases

There has been a huge worldwide effort over the last 2-plus decades to establish arthroplasty registries. Among the many advantages of such registries, advocates emphasize the potential detection of early failures associated with new implant designs and biomaterials. The large number of patients enrolled in most registries and the methodical capturing of data yield substantial statistical and research benefits.

Based on the successes of arthroplasty registries, parallel registries have been established for sports medicine (especially for shoulder and knee conditions and treatments), fractures, musculoskeletal tumors, and others. Although the focus has been on enrolling large numbers of patients with relatively common disorders or procedures, there have been less well-publicized efforts to create smaller registries of rarer diseases.

In the October 21, 2020 issue of The Journal, Forman et al. use the 8-site Congenital Upper Limb Differences (CoULD) registry to report on associations between congenital deficiency of the radial aspect of the forearm in 259 patients (383 involved limbs) and thumb hypoplasia. Two findings stood out to me:

  • The severity of radial deficiency was correlated with the severity of thumb deficiency.
  • Compared with subjects who had no diagnosed syndromes, patients with concomitant syndromes (such as VACTERL and Holt-Oram) were twice as likely to have bilateral deficiency and 2.5 times as likely to have radial and thumb deficiencies as opposed to thumb deficiency alone.

In addition to reinforcing findings from previous single-institution studies, these data from Forman et al. will help surgeons counsel parents, determine treatment approaches, and establish frameworks for following patient outcomes after both surgical and nonsurgical treatment. It is my hope that other clinician-researchers with interest in understanding and managing rare conditions will establish similar registries to benefit these smaller but no-less-important groups of patients and families.

Click here to read the JBJS Clinical Summary on Congenital Hand Differences.

Marc Swiontkowski, MD
JBJS Editor-in-Chief

What I Learned at the ASSH 2020 Virtual Annual Meeting

OrthoBuzz occasionally receives posts from guest bloggers. This guest post comes Christopher Dy, MD, MPH in response to his recent participation in the virtual Annual Meeting of the American Society for Surgery of the Hand.

The year 2020 has brought with it many “firsts.” For example, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Annual Meeting for the American Society for Surgery of the Hand (ASSH) was moved from San Antonio to a virtual platform. Kudos to the Annual Meeting chairs (Dawn Laport, MD and Ryan Calfee, MD), ASSH president Martin Boyer, MD, and the ASSH staff for constructing an amazing experience. Here are some general take-homes from my first-ever virtual conference experience:

  • A virtual conference provides attendees with a ton of flexibility and customization. While there are often “conflicting,” concurrent sessions during an in-person meeting where I have to decide between 2 sessions, the virtual ASSH meeting format offered the ability to go back and watch prior courses and lectures. When we (hopefully) go back to in-person meetings, it would help if more sessions were recorded and made available to attendees on demand.
  • The virtual conference requires a lot more pre-meeting preparation for all parties involved, especially presenters. Because the sessions that would normally occur in the large, main halls were hosted on a professionally run platform with A/V engineers, presenters were required to attend more than a few “tech” rehearsals, as well as submit their presentation slides 4 to 6 weeks in advance. I admit that it was harder for me to present from slides that didn’t feel as fresh, since I couldn’t revise them the night before!
  • While it was convenient to view most of the meeting from my couch (or exercise bike), I really miss the in-person interactions with colleagues and friends that you get while moving between sessions. It’s also harder to pull yourself away from your family and your practice when you are “participating” in a meeting from home or office.

Here are 4 technical things I learned from the sessions I attended, largely biased toward my personal interests. I encourage readers to leave comments by clicking on the “Leave a Comment” button in the box next to the title.

  • Innovation continues for distal nerve transfers to treat peripheral nerve palsy. Professor Jayme Bertelli from Brazil gave talks demonstrating both technical aspects and his own results following transfers such as ECRL [extensor carpi radialis longus]-to-AIN [anterior interosseous nerve], distal AIN to distal PIN [posterior interosseous nerve], and opponens pollicis to adductor pollicis. I am eager to read more about these transfers and get into the cadaver lab to refine my surgical technique. (Precourse 03 and Symposium 18)
  • The debate about “supercharging” (reverse end-to-side) nerve transfers continues. There is laboratory evidence supporting the role of a supercharged nerve transfer in preserving the distal muscle unit and the distal nerve stump. However, there is controversy regarding whether it is benign and/or beneficial to have 2 “competing” sources of muscle innervation, in cases where the “native” nerve reaches the distal target after the axons coming from the supercharged transfer have been placed. While many surgeons have adopted supercharged nerve transfer into their practice, there is far more laboratory and clinical research needed to substantiate this practice and refine the indications for use. (Precourse 03 and Symposium 11)
  • Utilization of wide-awake, local-anesthesia, no-tourniquet (WALANT) hand surgery continues to grow. Surgeons are performing a growing number of different surgeries (including fracture cases and complex tendon transfers) with WALANT, and some are doing these cases in procedure rooms or offices rather than in a formal operating room. These changes are driven by both surgeon and patient preference, as well as potential cost advantages for both parties. For surgeons, there is a potential for increased revenue with WALANT, but this can come with logistical challenges such as stocking sterile trays and making sure that medications are available. The trend toward increasing utilization of WALANT in procedure rooms and in surgeons’ offices is likely to continue. (Instructional courses 24 and 56 and related OrthoBuzz post)
  • Teaching in the operating room has shifted. Many current trainees prefer to use videos for case preparation rather than focusing on book chapters, technique articles, or primary literature. Consequently, there is a growing embrace of video among hand-surgeon educators. Videos that are short, discuss indications, and provide rationale for technique-related decisions are favored. Today’s trainees are also less likely to respond well to the classic Socratic method of teaching and may need more overtly delivered feedback. (Instructional courses 10 and 36)

Christopher Dy, MD, MPH is a hand and wrist surgeon, an assistant professor of orthopaedic surgery at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, and a member of the JBJS Social Media Advisory Board.

Is It Safe to Drive After WALANT Hand Surgery?

Most everyone has seen the auto-insurance TV ad where the deep-voiced man asserts, “Safe drivers save 40%.” Insurance savings notwithstanding, patients frequently ask orthopaedic surgeons when they can return to safe driving after surgery. Of course, the answer depends partly on the patient’s ability to drive safely before surgery, but most of the orthopaedic research on this topic has focused on lower extremities. In the September 16, 2020 issue of The Journal, Orfield et al. take a detailed look at the driving question after wide-awake, local-anesthetic, no-tourniquet (WALANT) surgery of the hand.

Twelve right-handed patients drove 18 miles under baseline conditions and completed various parking tasks during the first 45- to 55-minute test. The instrumented vehicle they drove obtained kinematic data automatically, and behavioral responses were recorded on video cameras. Then the same subjects completed the same driving exercise in the same vehicle—but this time after having their right hand injected with 10 mL of 1% lidocaine over the volar wrist, and another 10 mL into the carpal tunnel. To further simulate WALANT conditions, researchers applied a bulky hand dressing to each participant’s right hand. The WALANT-modeled driving test included a simulated “surprise event” that required avoidance maneuvers. Researchers analyzed before-and-after data on a variety of kinematics, including braking, acceleration, right and left turning, and proportion of time spent driving with each or both hands.

Overall, Orfield et al. found no evidence of a negative impact on driving fitness in the simulated WALANT state. In fact, the subjects braked harder and steered more smoothly in the WALANT-modeled state, an indication that they perceived they might be impaired. Not surprisingly, participants in the WALANT-modeled state spent decreased time using both hands (from 72% to 62%), while left-hand-only driving increased from 2% to 16% of the time. All participants reported that they felt safe to drive with a numb, bandaged right hand.

These noninferiority findings suggests that WALANT patients are no worse off with immediate driving after the surgical procedure than they were beforehand. The authors are quick to point out that these findings should not be generalized beyond right-handed people driving a passenger car with an automatic transmission in the United States. Still, this study gives us some evidence-based data to better inform patients undergoing common hand procedures now frequently performed under WALANT conditions, such as trigger-finger and carpal-tunnel release. However, we can’t guarantee they will save on their auto insurance.

Click here to view a 3-minute “Author Insight” video with study co-author Peter J. Apel, MD, PhD.

Matthew R. Schmitz, MD
JBJS Deputy Editor for Social Media

Reoperation Rates for Wrist-Arthritis Treatments

With contemporary teaching and advanced-imaging diagnostic protocols, the incidence of advanced wrist arthritis related to scaphoid nonunion and carpal instability seems to be decreasing. When this condition does present, the longstanding debate about treatment pits preserving the carpal bone mass with a 4-corner arthrodesis (FCA) against resecting the proximal row of carpal bones (proximal row carpectomy, or PRC) to provide better motion. At issue have been concerns about the durability and reoperation rates for these two treatment approaches.

In the June 17, 2020 issue of The Journal, Garcia et al. tap into the Veterans Health Administration  data warehouse to help clarify this treatment dilemma. The authors identified 1,168 patients with stage-II SLAC (scapholunate advanced collapse) or SNAC (scaphoid nonunion advanced collapse) patterns of wrist arthritis. The outcomes of interest were subsequent conversion to total wrist arthrodesis and secondary surgical procedures after FCA and PRC.

Using propensity score analysis, the authors established matched cohorts of 251 cases of each procedure. The rate of conversion to total wrist arthrodesis was virtually identical in both matched groups, but far fewer patients who underwent FCA avoided a subsequent nonarthrodesis operation compared with those who underwent PRC (83.5% vs 99.7%, respectively).

Based on these findings and the evidence in previously published literature, the authors say, “We believe that PRC may be preferable to FCA in patients with symptomatic stage-II SLAC/SNAC wrist arthritis.” I think this choice should always be the result of shared decision making that itemizes the pros and cons of both procedures—especially taking into account patient preferences related to expected functional outcomes.

Marc Swiontkowski, MD
JBJS Editor-in-Chief

What’s New in Hand and Wrist 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 OrthoBuzz summaries of these “What’s New” articles. This month, author Christopher J. Dy, MD, MPH selected the 5 most clinically compelling findings from the more than 50 studies summarized in the March 18, 2020 “What’s New in Hand and Wrist Surgery.

Scaphoid Nonunion
—A retrospective case series investigating 3 treatments for scaphoid nonunion among >100 patients1 found the following:

  • Those receiving iliac crest bone graft (n=31), most of whom had carpal collapse with preserved proximal pole vascularity, had a union rate of 71%, a time-to-union of 19 weeks, and a reoperation rate of 23%.
  • Those receiving an intercompartmental supraretinacular artery flap (n=33), most of whom had osteonecrosis of the proximal pole and half of whom had carpal collapse, had a union rate of 79%, a time-to-union of 26 weeks, and a reoperation rate of 12%.
  • Those receiving a free vascularized medial femoral condyle flap (n=45), most of whom had carpal collapse, osteonecrosis, and prior surgery, had a union rate of 89%, a time-to-union of 16 weeks, and a reoperation rate of 16%.

—Among 13 patients with scaphoid nonunion and osteonecrosis who were treated with cancellous autograft packing and volar-plate fixation,2 there was 100% fracture union, with most achieving union within 18 weeks. However, preoperative carpal-collapse rates were not reported, making it difficult to assess the role of this procedure.

Finger Replantation: Financial Issues
—The frequency and success rates of finger replantation have been decreasing in the US. A review of physician reimbursement for these procedures3 found that replantation has lower reimbursement per work relative value unit (RVU) than many other common hand surgeries, including revision amputation, carpal tunnel release, and trigger finger surgery. This “relative devaluation” may help explain the decline in frequency and success of finger replantation.

Socioeconomics of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
—Among patients seeking treatment for carpal tunnel syndrome, those from areas of “increased social deprivation” had worse physical function, pain interference, anxiety, and depression than patients from more affluent areas.4

Cubital Tunnel Syndrome
—A study of preoperative dynamic ultrasound in patients with cubital syndrome5 found that ultrasound was far more reliable than preoperative clinical examinations in predicting ulnar nerve stability within the cubital tunnel (88% match with intraoperative findings vs 12% match, respectively). Preoperative ultrasound may therefore help surgeons counsel patients about the possible need for nerve transposition.

References

  1. Aibinder WR, Wagner ER, Bishop AT, Shin AY. Bone grafting for scaphoid nonunions: is free vascularized bone grafting superior for scaphoid nonunion?Hand (N Y). 2019 Mar;14(2):217-22. Epub 2017 Oct 27.
  2. Putnam JG, DiGiovanni RM, Mitchell SM, Castañeda P, Edwards SG. Plate fixation with cancellous graft for scaphoid nonunion with avascular necrosis. J Hand Surg Am.2019 Apr;44(4):339.e1-7. Epub 2018 Aug 10.
  3. Hooper RC, Sterbenz JM, Zhong L, Chung KC. An in-depth review of physician reimbursement for digit and thumb replantation. J Hand Surg Am.2019 Jun;44(6):443-53. Epub 2019 Apr 17.
  4. Wright MA, Beleckas CM, Calfee RP. Mental and physical health disparities in patients with carpal tunnel syndrome living with high levels of social deprivation. J Hand Surg Am.2019 Apr;44(4):335.e1-9. Epub 2018 Jun 23.
  5. Rutter M, Grandizio LC, Malone WJ, Klena JC. The use of preoperative dynamic ultrasound to predict ulnar nerve stability following in situ decompression for cubital tunnel syndrome. J Hand Surg Am.2019 Jan;44(1):35-8. Epub 2018 Nov 27.

More Data on Managing Distal Radial Fractures in Old Patients

Distal radial fractures are common, especially in the elderly, but the best management for these fractures in older patients remains controversial. Clinical practice guidelines issued in 2011 by the AAOS recommend operative treatment when certain angulation and shortening criteria are met. Meanwhile, some studies show that age >65 years is an independent risk factor for poor radiographic outcomes,1 while other studies suggest that older patients have acceptable functional outcomes despite radiographic loss of reduction.2 We may want to believe that anatomic reduction and normal-appearing radiographs will ensure improved outcomes, but the science has not always confirmed that connection, leaving us and our older patients in a bit of a conundrum.

In the January 2, 2020 issue of The Journal, DeGeorge et al. tackle this subject in a large retrospective analysis of data from patients ≥65 years old who had been managed for a distal radial fracture between 2009 and 2014. Among >13,000 distal radial fractures analyzed, 9,973 were treated nonoperatively and 3,740 were treated operatively. The average age of the entire cohort was 75.4 years, but the authors found that the operative group was significantly younger, and that nonoperative treatment was more commonly performed in patients with a greater number and severity of medical comorbidities, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, and dementia.

At 90 days, the overall complication rate was low (36.5 complications per 1,000 fractures), and the authors found no significant differences between the operative and nonoperative groups. However, the complication rate at 1 year was significantly higher in the operative group (307.5 per 1,000 fractures) compared to the nonoperative group (236.2 complications per 1,000 fractures). Stiffness was the most common complication across both groups, but it was significantly more common in the group that underwent operative management (occurring in 16% of that cohort). Also of note: approximately 10% of patients in each group developed chronic regional pain syndrome.

Despite the inherent weaknesses in retrospective database analyses (including, in this case, the inability to analyze indications for surgery), this study reveals some important facts that may help us better counsel older patients. Operative management of distal radial fractures in the elderly may yield better radiographic outcomes than nonoperative treatment, but that comes with a significantly increased risk of 1-year complications. Accepting a less-than-perfect reduction on radiographs and casting the fracture may be more beneficial than surgery for many of our elderly patients.

Matthew R. Schmitz, MD
JBJS Deputy Editor for Social Media

References

  1. Mackenny PJ, McQueen MM, Elton R. Prediction of instability in distal radius fractures. J Bone Joint Surg Am. 2006 Sep; 88(9):1944-1951.
  2. Grewal R, MacDermid JC. The risk of adverse outcomes in extra-articular distal radius fractures is increased with malalignment in patients of all ages but mitigated in older patients. J Hand Surg Am. 2007 Sep; 32(7):962-70.

Editor’s Note: Here is a list of previous OrthoBuzz posts about managing distal radial fractures:

“Appropriate” Management of Distal Radial Fractures Improves Outcomes, Lowers Cost

Many surgeons realize that to improve value, we must improve the quality of care while decreasing its cost. Clinical Practice Guidelines (CPGs) developed by the AAOS and other medical societies are designed to help improve the quality of care and safety for patients, while also reducing inappropriate care and decreasing cost. Unfortunately, the evidence used for the development of CPGs is often of mixed quality. It is therefore crucial that studies evaluate patient outcomes when clinicians do and do not adhere to CPGs, so we can ensure that the guidelines are achieving their objective of improving care.

In the October 16, 2019 issue of The Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery, Giladi et al. hypothesize that adhering to Recommendation 3 of the AAOS CPG regarding radiographic indications for operative management of distal radial fractures would yield improved patient outcomes and cost benefits. Recommendation 3 of the CPG suggests that fractures with post-reduction radial shortening of >3 mm, dorsal tilt of >10°, or intra-articular displacement or step-off of >2 mm should be operatively treated. The authors retrospectively reviewed 266 patients, 145 of whom were treated operatively and 121 of whom were treated nonoperatively. Based on the guideline recommendation, only 6 patients were determined to have undergone inappropriate operative fixation, but 68 patients in the nonoperative cohort received inappropriate treatment; many of those had higher-grade fractures that, per the guideline, should have been surgically treated.

Using QuickDASH outcome scores at 4 time points up to 1 year and 1-year direct cost data, the authors compared the appropriately treated operative cohort to both the appropriate and inappropriate nonoperative groups. They also compared the appropriate and inappropriate nonoperative groups to each other. QuickDASH outcomes for appropriate nonoperative treatment were better than those for inappropriate nonoperative treatment at 1 year. In addition, inappropriate nonoperative treatment cost 60% more than appropriate nonoperative treatment. Although this cost comparison did not reach statistical significance, (p=0.23), it does  suggest a cost savings with adherence to the CPGs. Appropriately treated operative patients reported less disability than the inappropriately nonoperative group.

As we continue to work at increasing health-care value, it is critical that we review CPGs in action, as Giladi et al. have done in this study.  A potential next step would be to investigate whether the modest improvements in QuickDASH scores noted between appropriate operative treatment and inappropriate nonoperative treatment justify the 6-fold higher cost of operative treatment.

Matthew R. Schmitz, MD
JBJS Deputy Editor for Social Media

Plate–Tendon Contact: How Important Is It?

There are few things more discouraging for an orthopaedic surgeon than a late postoperative complication after what was an otherwise successful surgery. One such scenario occurs when patients who have undergone open reduction/internal fixation (ORIF) for a distal radial fracture subsequently experience a flexor pollicis longus (FPL) tendon rupture. While previous literature has suggested that plate positioning plays a role in that complication, no studies have evaluated whether newer plate designs decrease contact with the FPL tendon and therefore reduce the risk of rupture.

With that question in mind, Stepan et al. evaluated two cohorts of patients who had undergone ORIF for a distal radial fracture. In the September 4, 2019 issue of JBJS, they report on findings from 40 patients, 20 of whom received a standard distal radial volar locking plate, and 20 of whom received a plate designed with a distal cutout to afford the FPL more room to traverse.

Ultrasound analysis revealed that similar percentages of patients in each group had FPL–plate contact (65% in the FPL-plate group and 79% in the standard-plate group), and there were no differences between groups in terms of FPL tendon degeneration as seen on ultrasound. However, patients who received the FPL plate had significantly less of the tendon come in contact with the plate at 0° and 45° of wrist extension. The authors noted, however, that this difference may have been influenced by the fact that patients with the FPL-specific plate also had significantly lower volar tilt than patients with the standard locking plate. It is therefore not possible to determine whether it was the plate design or the bone position (or both) that led to these results.

It is also noteworthy that the two senior authors of this study work as consultants for the company that manufactures the plates that were evaluated. It is also important to note that because all the patients in this study were asymptomatic, further research is needed to determine the clinical importance of reduced tendon–plate contact area. We should temper our excitement about specially designed volar plates until we have more clinical data supporting their success in avoiding the problem for which they were designed.

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

How Many X-Rays Does It Take to Treat a Distal Radial Fracture?

We orthopaedists obtain radiographs for many reasons—to diagnose an unknown problem, to determine the progress of healing, and occasionally because we follow X-ray “dogma” acquired over time. That last reason prompted van Gerven et al. to undertake a multicenter, prospective, randomized controlled trial, the findings of which appear in the August 7, 2019 issue of The Journal.

The authors set out to evaluate the clinical utility of radiographs taken after a distal radial fracture in >300 patients. Some of those fractures were treated nonoperatively, while others underwent operative fixation. Surgeons of the patients randomized to the “usual-care” pathway were instructed to obtain radiographs at 1, 2, 6, and 12 weeks following the injury/surgery. Surgeons of patients in the “reduced-imaging” arm did not obtain radiographs beyond 2 weeks after the injury/surgery unless there was a specific clinical reason for doing so.

The authors found no significant differences between groups in any of the 6 patient-reported outcomes measured in the study, including the DASH score. Furthermore, the complication rates were almost identical between the usual-care (11.4%) and reduced-imaging (11.3%) groups. Not surprisingly, patients in the reduced-imaging group had fewer radiographs obtained (median 3 vs 4) and were exposed to a lower overall dose of ionizing radiation than those in the usual-care group.

Probably because the study was conducted in the Netherlands, it did not address the widespread practice of “defensive medicine” in the US—the unnecessary overuse of medical tests and procedures to reduce the risk of a malpractice claim. While that may limit the external validity of these findings among orthopaedists in the United States, this relatively simple yet well-designed study should remind us that it is important to have a definite clinical purpose when ordering a test of any type. A picture may be worth a thousand words, but sometimes it takes only 2 pictures to tell the full story of a healing distal radial fracture.

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

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?