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JBJS Classics: Arthroscopy’s Revolutionary Role in Diagnosing Knee Injuries

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

Prior to the advent and subsequently ubiquitous use of MRI that most young surgeons are now accustomed to, it was difficult to determine the incidence of several common sports-related injuriesFrank Noyes’ 1980 classic JBJS manuscript, “Arthroscopy in Acute Traumatic Hemarthrosis of the Knee,” was one of the first articles to establish the clear relationship between hemarthrosis and significant intra-articular knee pathology. While the importance of the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) had just come to light, Noyes’ landmark findings demonstrated the high incidence of ACL injury in association with acute traumatic hemarthrosis (ATH). Furthermore, he delineated arthroscopy’s critical role in accurately diagnosing other associated knee injuries.

This classic manuscript advocated for the use of arthroscopy as a diagnostic tool for the evaluation of ATH at a time when the consequences of a “knee sprain” with acute swelling were unclear.  In patients who did not have obvious laxity, an existing acute rupture of the ACL was often left undiagnosed during initial clinical evaluations. Noyes’ innovation pushed the field to couple clinical examination with arthroscopy in cases of acute knee injuries, to allow for more accurate diagnosis. Following this paper’s publication, and well into the 1980s, research continued to confirm Noyes’ findings that one of the best uses of arthroscopy was for diagnosis of acute knee injuries.

This paper and another Noyes study[1] were among the first to identify the high rate of serious knee injuries among patients with ATH. Noyes’ JBJS paper showed that 72% of knees with ATH were characterized by some degree of ACL injury. Moreover, in knees with complete ACL disruption, both the anterior drawer and flexion-rotation drawer tests proved to be more accurate diagnostically when performed with the patient under anesthesia than when the tests were performed in the clinic. Further, he also established that ACL tear, meniscus tear, and/or cartilage injury must be included in the differential diagnosis of an ATH.

Noyes’ group revolutionized the course of treatment and care for patients with ATH. While we generally no longer use knee arthroscopy as a diagnostic tool, because of this article, we routinely order MRI in the setting of ATH. Noyes’ piece remains timeless and well-deserving of the title of a “JBJS Classic.”

Robert G. Marx, MD, MSc, FRCSC
JBJS Deputy Editor

Naaman Mehta, BS

Stephen Thompson, MD, MEd, FRCSC
JBJS Deputy Editor

Reference

[1] Noyes FR, Paulos L, Mooar LA, Signer B. Knee Sprains and Acute Knee Hemarthrosis: Misdiagnosis of Anterior Cruciate Ligament Tears. Phys Ther. 60(12): 1596-1601, 1980.

JBJS Classics: Congenital Dislocation of the Hip

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

Having passed the half-century mark with continued relevance, this classic JBJS article by T.G. Barlow, published in the British volume in 1962, rewards the reader with pearls and insights that can still help us make good decisions about treatment of infants with hip dysplasia. Exploring new approaches always pays rich dividends, and this report details Barlow’s observations from a five-year study (1957­­-1962) in which he examined all newborns at his hospital and followed them up at one year of age. This effort was undertaken at a time before the emerging field of pediatric orthopaedics had many full-time adherents.

Barlow studied nearly 10,000 newborns at the Hope Hospital in Manchester, England. He conducted the first examinations during the first week of life, in an era when newborns in the UK stayed in the hospital for at least one week. He carefully recorded his findings and made observations on incidence of hip dislocation, natural history, and treatment.

His first contribution, for which he is still remembered, was to show that in newborns, with their low resting muscle and tissue tension, the Ortolani test is often subtle, and a dislocated hip may escape notice. The Ortolani test was often impressive in older babies, but less so in newborns. Therefore, Barlow devised his eponymous test, which increases the proprioceptive feedback by applying axial pressure and provoking subluxation or dislocation. Simply put, it is often easier to feel the hip displacing with pressure than to feel it slip back in.  The number of babies who have benefited from this method of early detection is too numerous to count!

Barlow’s other observations are equally relevant and useful. He observed that many babies with dislocatable but non-dislocated hips will stabilize naturally. He showed that only one-eighth of unstable hips will have a persistent dislocation, which is why we now only treat dislocated hips immediately upon detection.  Recent articles1 have added further insights in this regard.

Barlow also showed that with a program of screening and treatment, no patient in his experience presented at a year of age with a hip dislocation. We still debate the proper method of early detection, but he properly targeted the neonatal period as the time that instability usually begins. Barlow also demonstrated a simple abduction splint made of aluminum and leather that holds the hips in flexion and abduction. Although the Pavlik harness has become more popular as an initial treatment, experts have recently come to realize that a fixed-angle brace can benefit some children who do not stabilize in a Pavlik.2

This classic article was fun to re-read and remains useful to general and pediatric orthopaedic surgeons. Barlow’s disciplined undertaking has shaped our understanding of this important disorder. The man and his insights are remembered for good reason.

Paul D. Sponseller, MD
JBJS Deputy Editor

References

  1. Upasani VV, Bomar JD, Matheney TH, Sankar WN, Mulpuri K, Price CT, Moseley CF, Kelley SP, Narayanan U, Clarke NM, Wedge JH, Castañeda P, Kasser JR, Foster BK, Herrera-Soto JA, Cundy PJ, Williams N, Mubarak SJ. Evaluation of Brace Treatment for Infant Hip Dislocation in a Prospective Cohort: Defining the Success Rate and Variables Associated with Failure. J Bone Joint Surg Am. 2016 Jul 20;98(14):1215-21
  1. Sankar WN, Nduaguba A, Flynn JM. Ilfeld abduction orthosis is an effective second-line treatment after failure of Pavlik harness for infants with developmental dysplasia of the hip. J Bone Joint Surg Am. 2015 Feb 18;97(4):292-7.

JBJS Classics: Biomechanics of the Normal Elbow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bernhard Jost, M.D.
JBJS Deputy Editor

JBJS Classics: The Natural History of Congenital Scoliosis

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

Michael McMaster, a widely respected and well-published orthopaedic surgeon from Edinburgh who treated a great number of pediatric spinal deformity patients over a 36-year career, published this classic JBJS article more than 30 years ago. His report continues to serve as the basis for what we as pediatric spinal deformity surgeons recommend for treatment in children with congenital scoliosis. The classification that he proposed allows us to know early in childhood which congenital scoliosis patients require early, aggressive treatment and who can be followed with little need for treatment.

By assessing 251 growing patients with congenital scoliosis in a longitudinal manner, Mr. McMaster determined the rate of progression with growth for 5 different primary curve types. The most progressive deformity is a unilateral vertebral bar (failure of segmentation) with a contralateral hemivertebra (failure of formation). Common congenital single hemivertebrae worsen most in the thoracolumbar and lower thoracic areas, and all hemivertebrae progress at a faster rate after 10 years of age than prior to age 10.

Knowing the natural history of any deformity in pediatric orthopaedics is the major factor in determining the need for treatment.  Mr. McMaster here provided the pediatric spinal deformity surgeon with essential information that still guides our treatment of congenital scoliosis on a daily basis today.

Vernon T. Tolo, MD
JBJS Editor Emeritus

JBJS Classics: The Moseley Straight-Line Graph for Leg-Length Discrepancies

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

One of the hallmarks of a great journal article is whether it changes practice. In 1977, Colin Moseley presented a new method of predicting future leg growth that automatically takes into consideration the child’s growth percentile and the amount of growth inhibition in the short leg. Dr. Moseley’s method has been widely accepted because it is user-friendly and only requires three data points at each visit to the clinic – skeletal age and length of the long and the short legs. The accuracy of the prediction relies on serial measurements at different time points during the child’s growth. The more data points,  the more accurate the prediction. Unlike other methods, no mathematical calculations are necessary.

Then as now, the beauty of the method is that the growth of both the long and short legs can be represented by straight lines on a graph. Dr. Moseley accomplished this by mathematically converting Green and Anderson’s growth-remaining data into a logarithmic form. The straight-line graph improved upon the Green and Anderson data, as it was able to address the influence of the child’s growth in height by providing a nomogram to plot longitudinal skeletal age data to determine the end of growth. Moseley’s graph also provided reference slopes to aid in decision-making about when epiphysiodesis should be performed.

Dr. Moseley compared the accuracy of his method to that of the Green and Anderson growth-remaining method by doing a retrospective study based on data from 30 children treated with epiphysiodesis who had adequate scanograms and skeletal-age radiographs. The patients came from the Shriner’s Hospitals for Crippled Children in Montreal, Canada and the Alfred duPont Institute in Wilmington, Delaware.

Dr. Moseley found that the straight-line graph proved to be as accurate as the growth-remaining method—and more accurate in cases of high growth inhibition. It is interesting to note that Dr. Moseley was the only person doing this study and there was no test for interobserver error, which would certainly be one of the concerns raised by today’s reviewers for JBJS. The study could also have been strengthened if Dr. Moseley had validated his method with a series of prospective cases.

Dr. Moseley made certain assumptions in developing this method for predicting leg-length discrepancy at maturity. He used skeletal age and not chronological age as the norm. He assumed that growth of both the long and short legs was linear and that each individual child would remain in the same growth percentile with respect to skeletal age.

In 1982, Frederic Shapiro from Boston Children’s Hospital reported five developmental patterns in leg-length discrepancies in JBJS. Interestingly, type 1, which comprised a large proportion of the 803 cases reviewed, had a linear growth pattern where the discrepancy increased at the same proportionate rate. This finding supported the assumptions that Dr. Moseley made for the majority of his cases, but it also confirmed that not all discrepancies progress at the same rate, the notable exceptions being in children with Perthes disease and leg-length discrepancies arising from femoral fractures.

Eng Hin Lee, MD, FRCS(C)
JBJS Deputy Editor

JBJS Classics: Blount Disease by Another Name

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

When Walter Putnam Blount, MD described “Tibia Vara: Osteochondrosis Deformans Tibiae” in the January 1937 issue of The Journal of Bone & Joint Surgery, he probably did not realize that this mouthful of a term would become known simply as “Blount disease.” With a keen interest in children’s limb and spinal deformities, Blount was a pioneer pediatric deformity surgeon. He spent most of his career at the Children’s Hospital in Milwaukee and was clearly ahead of his time.

In this classic article, Blount detailed clinical and radiologic features of the affected lower extremities of 13 children with bowlegs. Additionally, he parsed out 16 other cases of genu varum that previous authors had reported as being secondary to rickets, infection, or other etiologies. In vivid detail, including tracings of these other patients’ radiographs, Blount corroborated that this newly described entity was indeed something different. He supplemented his research with histologic specimens from the affected growth plate and surrounding unossified cartilage of the proximal tibia.

Nearly 80 years have passed since Blount’s original description, and not much more is known about this enigmatic developmental disorder. Although most of his Caucasian patients in the 1937 study were not overweight, with the changing U.S. demographics and the prevalence of childhood obesity, his suggestion of a genetic and a mechanical basis for this growth-plate disorder remains plausible.

Based on the age of onset of the deformity, Blount recognized that there were two distinct forms of tibia vara, which he classified as infantile and adolescent. While the radiographs in the article only show the frontal images, he clearly documented the associated axial plane deformities with internal tibial torsion and ipsilateral shortening. Though Blount was a big proponent of the Milwaukee brace for managing spinal deformities in children, he seemed disenchanted with using orthoses to treat tibia vara. He instead advocated surgical correction via a valgus realignment proximal tibial osteotomy, a recommendation that remains relevant to this day.

Given the potential for less postoperative morbidity, there has been a resurgence of “guided growth” as another way of treating pediatric limb deformities. Interestingly, more than a decade after his description of tibia vara, Blount published another masterpiece in JBJS, “Control of Bone Growth by Epiphyseal Stapling.” Prior to this time, (hemi)epiphyseodesis was largely performed by the Phemister technique, with permanent ablation of the growth plate. By recognizing that physeal growth can be harnessed to correct angular deformities by inserting removable implants such as staples across the growth plate, Walter Blount, through these two classic JBJS articles and various other contributions, outlined essentially all viable options that are currently available to treat this disorder that fittingly bears his name.

In his presidential address to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons in January 1956, Blount noted, “I should rather be remembered as a thoughtful surgeon than as a bold one.” His wish has indeed come true.

Sanjeev Sabharwal, MD, MPH
JBJS Deputy Editor

JBJS Classics: The Self-Locking Metal Hip Prosthesis

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

Austin Moore’s article “The Self-Locking Metal Hip Prosthesis” was published in The Journal of Bone & Joint Surgery in 1957. Dr. Moore had a lifelong professional interest in hip-fracture surgery and was well aware of the problems associated with reduction and fixation of displaced femoral neck fractures. He had previously designed an internal-fixation device for the management of these injuries and had recognized that perfect reduction, accurate placement of the hip nail, and 100% compliance with non-weight bearing were prerequisites for a satisfactory outcome. For patients in whom those criteria could not be met or those in whom reduction and fixation had failed, an alternate method of managing these fractures was required.

Fourteen years prior to the publication of this landmark article, Dr. Moore had published a case report in The Journal (July 1943) in which he documented the use of a metal prosthesis to replace the proximal end of the femur for a patient with an aggressive giant cell tumour. Some years later the patient succumbed from other causes and the femur was retrieved at autopsy. The specimens demonstrated satisfactory osseointegration of this implant in the proximal femur and encouraged Dr. Moore to experiment with a number of models of proximal femoral implants. This progression of implant design and usage is carefully outlined in this classic paper, which is amply illustrated with radiographs and autopsy specimens of the evolving prosthesis that eventually became known as the Austin Moore hip prosthesis.

This paper is notable for a number of reasons. First, Dr. Moore was able to demonstrate satisfactory fixation using an intramedullary stemmed implant—a significant departure from the early efforts of the Judet brothers and others, who used a small stem in the residual femoral neck in patients being treated for hip arthritis. Secondly, the author developed a specific surgical approach allowing for the insertion of these slightly curved stems into the femur—an approach that is still used today in a number of surgical hip procedures.

Third, Dr. Moore demonstrated the usefulness of proximal femoral replacement in acute displaced femoral neck fractures, avascular necrosis following femoral neck fracture, and non-unions of the femoral neck. He further expanded the use of this implant in the treatment of hip arthritis and documents a number of such cases in this article.

Throughout the article, Dr. Moore emphasizes the importance of meticulous surgical technique, the use of bone ingrowth fixation, careful sizing of the femoral head to the native acetabulum, and the importance of conscientious post-operative care. Finally, he recognized the importance of routine follow-up of endoprostheses and insisted on a yearly visit to ensure appropriate integration of the prosthesis.

In summary, with this article Dr. Moore started a trend of endoprosthetic treatment for displaced femoral neck fractures that is now the standard of care throughout much of the world. During the development of this technique, he demonstrated the importance of bone ingrowth as a method of stabilizing the prosthesis, the importance of good surgical technique, and the value of long-term follow-up in managing patients with hip prostheses. The fact that the implant he designed and reported on 60 years ago is still in widespread use is a reflection of his vision.

James P. Waddell MD, FRCSC
JBJS Deputy Editor

JBJS Classics: The Küntscher Method of IM Fixation

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

In 1957 Gerhard Küntscher presented his work on intramedullary (IM) nailing to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.  His classic JBJS paper on the subject, published in January 1958, summarized his views on this comparatively new technique and encouraged other surgeons to use it for the treatment of long bone fractures and nonunions.

Küntscher pointed out that callus was very sensitive to mechanical stresses, and therefore any treatment method should aim at complete immobilization of the fracture fragments throughout the healing process. External splints, such as plaster casts, did not achieve that, and “inner splints” fixed to the outside of the bone damaged the periosteum.

In advocating for intramedullary fixation, Küntscher was careful to distinguish nails from pins. He was very complimentary about J. and L. Rush, who developed intramedullary pinning, but he pointed out that, unlike pins, nails allowed both longitudinal elasticity and cross-sectional compressibility if they were designed with a V-profile or clover-leaf cross section. This cross-sectional elasticity allowed the nail to fit the canal and expand during bone resorption.

Not only did Küntscher appreciate the biomechanics of the intramedullary nail, but he also pointed out the physical and psychological advantages of early mobilization, particularly in the elderly. He also emphasized that massage was unnecessary—and potentially harmful—during the recovery phase, claiming that any measures that make patients more conscious of their injuries are psychologically disadvantageous.

Küntscher used intramedullary nailing to treat fractures, nonunions, and osteotomies of the femur, tibia, humerus, and forearm. He accepted that it was “a most daring” approach that would destroy the nutrient artery, but he pointed out that proper nailing almost always prevented pseudarthoses and that antibiotics had checked the threat of infection. He said further that perioperative x-rays entailed short exposures and that the “electronic fluoroscope” had, even back then, practically eliminated the risk of x-ray injury to assistants.

The paper clearly illustrates Küntscher’s widespread knowledge and innovative skills. However, it was the subsequent development of locked nails that resulted in intramedullary nailing becoming the treatment of choice for femoral and tibial fractures. Time will tell if modern orthopaedic surgeons will catch up with Küntscher and use nailing for humeral and forearm diaphyseal fractures.

Charles M Court-Brown, MD, FRCSCEd

JBJS Deputy Editor

JBJS Classics: Sarmiento Pioneered Weight-Bearing Fracture Healing

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

Prior to the innovative work of Gus Sarmiento in the 1960s, most orthopaedic surgeons treated tibial shaft fractures with a prolonged period of immobilization, in a long-leg non-weight bearing cast. While the fracture usually healed, knee joint stiffness and atrophy of the entire limb usually resulted as well.

In this 1967 JBJS classic, Sarmiento extended the concept of early weight-bearing treatment of these fracture as advocated by Dehne and others by incorporating the limb in a below-the-knee total-contact plaster cast, a technique that had recently been developed for the early rehabilitation of a below-the-knee amputation. The skin-tight plaster cast was applied over a single layer of stockinette one to two weeks after the acute swelling had subsided. It was molded proximally to contain the muscles of the proximal leg, and it had medial and lateral condylar flares, similar to a patellar-tendon-bearing (PTB) prosthesis.

Sarmiento encouraged early weight bearing in the cast, as he believed that doing so stimulated fracture healing. His confidence was borne out by this report of 100 consecutive tibial shaft fractures treated with a PTB cast. All 100 fractures healed, and healing occurred with minimal deformity or shortening. This success soon led to Sarmiento’s development of a functional below-the-knee tibial fracture brace made of Orthoplast®, a thermoplastic material which, when heated in a water bath, could be molded easily to the injured limb.

While today most tibial shaft fractures are treated with intramedullary nails, the principles developed by Sarmiento still apply, as the nail acts much like the fracture brace to maintain alignment during the healing process. Fracture healing is enhanced by weight bearing, and joint stiffness and muscle atrophy are avoided by early motion.

Sarmiento’s concept of functional treatment was later extended to the treatment of humeral and ulnar shaft fractures, which commonly continue today to be managed effectively with fracture braces that he developed. This emphasis upon early functional restoration while the fracture is healing has allowed many patients to achieve faster healing and to resume full function much sooner.

James D. Heckman, MD

JBJS Editor Emeritus

JBJS Classics: Antibiotics and Open Fractures

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

From the time of Hippocrates until after the American Civil War, open fractures and other wounds prone to sepsis were fatal injuries in approximately 50% of patients, and amputation of the affected limb was recognized as lifesaving treatment. With the adoption of antisepsis and formal surgical débridement in the late 19th century, improved stabilization techniques in the 20th century, and the introduction of antibiotics, death as an outcome was virtually eliminated, but nonunion with or without infection remained challenging complications.

In the 1960s, reports concluding that in open fracture care “prophylactic antibiotics were of questionable value” created great debate and controversy among surgeons. The pioneering 1974 JBJS study by Patzakis et al., titled “The Role of Antibiotics in the Management of Open Fractures,” addressed this controversy by asking and answering three key questions:

  • Is antibiotic prophylaxis worthwhile in open fractures?
  • Which organisms cause the infections?
  • Which antibiotics are effective?

The study demonstrated that nearly two-thirds of wounds caused by direct injury and an even higher rate of gunshot wounds were contaminated. That finding, along with the fact that several days must elapse before a culture can be considered truly sterile, makes true “prophylaxis” in open fractures practicable only if antibiotics are applied to all patients. Patzakis et al. also stressed that antibiotic treatment is not a substitute for the critically important practice of extensive surgical debridement of all devitalized tissue. Urgent surgical irrigation and debridement remain the mainstay of infection eradication, although questions persist regarding the optimal irrigation solution, volume, and delivery pressure.

I agree with the authors of this classic article that the term “prophylaxis” is not appropriate because these wounds should presumptively be considered contaminated and treated with effective antibiotics. Wound sampling has a poor predictive value in determining subsequent infections, so a first-generation cephalosporin should be administered as soon as possible, with or without coverage for gram-negative bacteria. In addition, as Lawing et al. found in a 2015 JBJS study, local aqueous aminoglycoside administration as an adjunct to systemic antibiotics may be effective in lowering infection rates in open fractures.

This classic prospective study by Patzakis et al. in the 1970s has prompted us to ask and pursue answers to many more clinical questions regarding open-fracture infections. For example, the optimal duration of antibiotic administration has not been well defined, but they should be continued for more than 24 hours. The evidence to support either extending the duration or broadening the antibiotic protocol for Gustilo type III wounds remains inconclusive, and more investigation into this question with higher-level research methods is needed.

Konstantinos Malizos, MD, PhD

JBJS Deputy Editor