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WALANT Surgery Works for Ankle Fractures

OrthoBuzz previously covered WALANT (wide awake, local anesthesia, no tourniquet) surgery, and we very recently featured a JBJS study about treating ankle fractures in a limited-resource environment. These 2 concepts unite in a JBJS study by Tahir et al., which reports on WALANT surgery for ankle fractures in Pakistan.

WALANT surgery has enjoyed increasingly broad dissemination throughout the world since its popularization by Canadian hand surgeon Don Lalonde. Considering its origins, WALANT has been adopted most enthusiastically by the hand-surgery community, but it has been applied successfully to other anatomic regions. WALANT principles are particularly relevant in settings where anesthetic resources and expertise may be limited, such as hospitals where monitoring equipment that helps ensure safe general anesthesia is not readily available.

Tahir et al. used WALANT during open reduction/internal fixation (ORIF) in 58 patients (average age of 47 years) with a distal fibula fracture; 62% of those fractures were OTA-classified as 44C2. Among the excellent results in this cohort were a mean intraoperative VAS pain score of 1.24 and a mean operative time of <1 hour. These findings point to the potential for safely using WALANT techniques during ORIF of other fracture types.

The authors emphasize, however, that “each patient should be individually assessed by the operating surgeon,” not only for injury characteristics that contraindicate WALANT, such as substantial swelling, but also for anxiety and psychological disorders. Consequently, Tahir et al. recommend that surgeons undertaking WALANT procedures have a backup anesthetist available so they can convert to general anesthesia in cases of patient anxiety.

Marc Swiontkowski, MD
JBJS Editor-in-Chief

Sustainable Trauma Care in Low-Resource Settings: How Can We Help?

Orthopaedic colleagues who live and practice in low-resource areas around the world have clearly voiced that they want support from better-resourced partners. But such efforts must be sustainable, a key point emphasized by Woolley et al. in their thought-provoking 2019 JBJS “What’s Important” essay regarding orthopaedic care in Haiti. In contrast to “medical missions” offering short-term assistance for a small number of patients, longer-term systemwide gains come from partnerships focused on education and training that acknowledge the central role of local orthopaedic practitioners in addressing the ongoing needs of their patients.

Along those lines, Agarwal-Harding et al. describe a 3-phase pathway for improving ankle-fracture management in sub-Saharan Malawi in their recent JBJS report. In the first 2 phases, the local knowledge base and treatment strategies were assessed. (Greater than 90% of orthopaedic trauma care in the country is provided by nonphysician “clinical officers,” and most ankle-fracture management in Malawi is nonoperative because there is only about 1 orthopaedic surgeon per 1.9 million Malawians). A team of Malawian and US faculty then designed and implemented an education course that reviewed ankle anatomy, fracture classification, and evidence-based treatment guidelines. From that arose standardized protocols to improve fracture-care quality and safety in the face of limited resources.

While these protocols were unique to the Malawian context, I am convinced that similar interventions can be adapted for other low-resource environments—as long as local clinicians are part of the process. With such a flexible and sustainable program in place, efforts can then be directed toward the advancement of surgical skills and development of cost-effective supply chains. We should all support such efforts worldwide, recognizing that the burden of musculoskeletal trauma is a public health issue warranting collaborative solutions with lasting impact.

Marc Swiontkowski, MD
JBJS Editor-in-Chief

 

Click here for a related OrthoBuzz post about trauma care in Malawi.

Life Expectancy Informs Choice of Hemi Implant after Femoral Neck Fracture

Predicting life expectancy is not an exact science. But estimating the remaining years of life in elderly patients with a femoral neck fracture may help orthopaedists determine whether to use unipolar or bipolar hemiarthroplasty components when surgically managing that population. So suggest Farey et al. in the February 3, 2021 issue of The Journal of Bone & Joint Surgery.

The relevant “magic number” for life expectancy after femoral neck fracture is 2.5 years. The authors arrived at that number by performing statistical analyses on nearly 63,000 cases of femoral neck fractures treated with either modular unipolar or bipolar hemiarthroplasty. Patients were in their early 80s on average at the time of surgery. The researchers focused on revision rates because reoperations in this vulnerable group of patients typically yield poor results.

There was no between-group difference in overall revision rate within 0 and 2.5 years after the procedure. However, unipolar hemiarthroplasty was associated with a higher overall revision rate than bipolar hemiarthroplasty beyond 2.5 years after surgery (hazard ratio [HR], 1.86).

Farey et al. also drilled down into reasons for revision and found that unipolar prostheses had a greater risk of revision for acetabular erosion, particularly in later postoperative time periods. Conversely, bipolar hemiarthroplasty was associated with a higher risk of revision for periprosthetic fracture, which the authors surmise might have arisen from the greater range of motion (and therefore activity levels) permitted by bipolar implants.

Although the authors did not perform a formal cost-benefit analysis related to this dilemma, they observed a nearly $1,000 USD price difference between the most commonly used bipolar and unipolar prostheses. Farey et al. therefore propose that the more expensive bipolar prosthesis may be justified for patients with a life expectancy beyond 2.5 years, but that the unipolar design is justified for patients with a postoperative life expectancy of ≤2.5 years.

Click here to listen to a 15-minute OrthoJOE podcast about this topic, featuring JBJS Editor-in-Chief Dr. Marc Swiontkowski and OrthoEvidence Editor-in-Chief Dr. Mo Bhandari.

Click here to see a 3-minute Video Summary of this study.

Click here to read a JBJS Clinical Summary comparing total hip arthroplasty with hemiarthroplasty for displaced femoral neck fractures.

Surgical-Technique Videos Focus on Pediatric Fractures

Many orthopaedic surgeons who take emergency-department or trauma call are confronted with a pediatric patient presenting with a fracture. However, very few of those orthopaedists are pediatric subspecialists. In fact, Geisinger researchers recently reported that the median number of pediatric orthopaedists per state in the US is only 23 (range 0 to 134).

To address these demographic realities, JBJS Essential Surgical Techniques has launched a video-based, point-of-care resource to help any orthopaedic surgeon manage the most common pediatric fractures with the highest level of quality, helping ensure excellent outcomes for young patients and their parents. Most of the authors of these pediatric-focused procedural videos are members of CORTICES—a collaboration of pediatric orthopedic surgeons dedicated to improving the management of emergent orthopedic conditions through education, research, and development of optimal care guidelines.

Here are links to the 5 already-published video articles in this series:

Upcoming videos in this special series will cover the following 5 topics:

  • Screw Fixation of Pediatric Proximal Tibial Tubercle Fractures
  • Reduction and Internal Screw Fixation of Transitional Ankle Fractures
  • Flexible Intramedullary Nailing of Pediatric Femur Fractures
  • Intramedullary Fixation of the Ulna for Monteggia Fracture Management
  • Open Reduction and Internal Fixation of Pediatric Medial Epicondyle Humerus Fractures

JBJS Essential Surgical Techniques is the premier online journal describing how to perform orthopaedic surgical procedures, verified by evidence-based outcomes, vetted by peer review, and utilizing video to optimize the educational experience, thereby enhancing patient care.

Micromotion Followed by Rigid Fixation Boosts Fracture Healing

Mechanical factors undoubtedly play a role in the rate and quality of fracture healing. For example, the seminal work on fracture strain by the late Stephan Perren, MD helped us understand that the larger the overall fracture area, the lower the fracture strain—and that less strain encourages fracture union.

But with the variety of fracture planes and orientations, different energies imparted to produce the fracture, and multiple patient factors such as bone density, the best approaches by which to positively influence fracture-healing mechanics are still being investigated. We do know that motion mechanics come into play for nonsurgically stabilized fractures in our patients.

In the February 3, 2021 issue of The Journal, Glatt et al. provide more data on the role of micromotion in fracture healing. The authors created a 2-mm transverse tibial osteotomy in 18 goats and then used an external fixator to achieve static, rigid fixation in 6 of the osteotomized tibiae. Six other tibiae were treated with a fixator that allowed 2 mm of controlled axial micromotion for the 8-week duration of the experiment. (This so-called dynamization technique was championed more than 30 years ago by Fred Behrens, MD, who established that inducing micromotion helps stimulate maturation of fracture callus.) The remaining 6 tibiae were initially treated with dynamization, followed by rigid fixation during weeks 4 through 8—a technique known as reverse dynamization. The experimental groups simulated 3 different versions of cast or brace immobilization without surgery.

Using radiographs, micro-CT data, and torsion testing, the investigators found that, after 8 weeks, bones in the reverse-dynamization group were significantly stronger and showed more characteristics of intact, contralateral tibiae than the treated bones in the other 2 groups. I agree with the authors’ conclusion that their results “may have important consequences regarding our understanding of the optimum fixation stability necessary to maximize the regenerative capacity of bone-healing clinically.” With this experiment, Glatt et al. have added another important piece to the puzzle that Drs. Perren and Behrens started solving many years ago.

Marc Swiontkowski, MD
JBJS Editor-in-Chief

Halt Bisphosphonates in Patients with an Atypical Femoral Fracture

Osteoporosis is the major contributor to the increasing incidence of fragility fractures associated with low-energy falls. The other contributor is the populous baby-boomer generation that is entering its final decades of life. Our orthopaedic community has made some progress in “owning the bone” to prevent fragility fractures. For example, we have gotten better at identifying a first fragility fracture as a major risk for a subsequent fracture; we more frequently initiate medical treatment for osteoporosis, and we are more inclined to refer patients with a first fragility fracture to a fracture liaison service, if one exists (see related OrthoBuzz posts).

However, orthopaedic physicians treating patients with fragility fractures need to remember that osteoporosis-treatment complications are also within our scope of responsibility. In the January 20, 2021 issue of The Journal, Lee et al. retrospectively analyzed 53 patients (all women, with an average age of 72 years) who had a complete atypical femoral fracture (AFF), a phenomenon primarily related to bisphosphonate treatment for osteoporosis. More than 37% of these patients were given bisphosphonates after their first AFF, and among those 53 patients who went on to show radiographic progression toward a second AFF in the contralateral femur, 61% used bisphosphonates after surgery for the first AFF.

The most shocking aspect of the findings by Lee et al. is the unacceptably high percentage of patients who remained on bisphosphonate therapy after the initial AFF. I wholeheartedly agree with Anna Miller, MD, who writes in her Commentary on this study that “an atypical stress fracture while on bisphosphonates should be considered a failure of bisphosphonate treatment, and that therapy should be stopped immediately.” If there is ongoing osteoporosis in such cases, the orthopaedic surgeon should consider prescribing an anabolic drug such as teraparatide or abaloparatide–and should communicate with the patient’s endocrinologist or other physician who might still be prescribing bisphosphonates.

In my opinion, we have to improve more quickly on both of these clinical issues–secondary fragility fracture prevention and treatment of bisphosphonate-therapy complications–because the population dynamics in the US and worldwide are evolving rapidly.

Click here to view a 2-minute video summary of this study’s design and findings.

Marc Swiontkowski, MD
JBJS Editor-in-Chief

Surgical Costs: Just the Half of It

Total-cost breakdown for ankle-fracture patients treated nonoperatively.

The Journal is receiving an increasing number of manuscripts related to value assessments and cost-effectiveness analyses of treatments for orthopaedic pathologies. This line of investigation is crucial to helping the larger healthcare system lower costs while improving patient outcomes. One aspect of determining the total cost of a musculoskeletal intervention is the impact of so-called indirect costs. Components of indirect costs include lost patient wages from not working, higher transportation costs, and extra dollars spent by the individual or family to manage household chores and self-care.

In the December 16, 2020 issue of The Journal, Noback et al. examine the total, direct, and indirect costs of care among 60 patients with a lateral malleolar fracture that was treated either nonsurgically or surgically. They found that in many cases, indirect costs exceeded the direct cost of delivering medical/surgical care. Not surprisingly, this was especially true in nonoperatively treated patients, where three-quarters of the total cost were indirect costs (see Figure).

I believe that our community needs to more widely appreciate and study the impact of patients’ lost wage-earning opportunities and out-of-pocket expenditures. Every treatment recommendation we make in clinical practice involves these financial implications for our patients. Noback et al. go so far as to claim that “any cost-effectiveness analysis… must assess indirect costs or it risks drastically mischaracterizing a treatment’s value.”

We therefore should continue pushing our treatment and rehabilitation strategies to more aggressively limit time lost to full weight-bearing or use of the upper limb. Also, orthopaedic research should be directed toward strategies that limit the impact of indirect costs and family burdens as we seek to continuously improve care for our patients.

Marc Swiontkowski, MD
JBJS Editor-in-Chief

Seeking Molecular Signatures of Ectopic Bone Formation

OrthoBuzz occasionally receives posts from guest bloggers. This guest post comes from Impact Science, in response to an article in the November 4, 2020 JBJS.

Among military personnel who sustain blast-related injuries, physicians have observed a dramatic increase in the incidence of heterotopic ossification (HO), a pathology in which bone grows abnormally within soft tissues. This condition is frequently observed in association with burns and nonmilitary orthopaedic trauma, and combat-related HO is now occurring at an exceptionally high frequency of approximately 60%.

HO can range from an asymptomatic, incidental finding to a debilitating condition causing chronic pain and impaired movement. Although symptomatic HO is usually treated with surgical excision, identifying HO early in its development could go a long way toward improving quality of life for those with combat injuries.

Previous studies have suggested that certain microRNAs (miRNAs) play an important role in the formation of post-traumatic HO. A group of US researchers recently hypothesized that specific miRNA “signatures” might be present in the tissues of military personnel soon after a blast injury.

The authors collected 10 tissue samples from injured servicemembers during the surgical debridement of their wounds, about 8 days after the initial injuries occurred. The miRNA profiling of the samples, performed using a real-time polymerase chain reaction array, revealed that the tissues from patients who developed HO had upregulated levels of 6 miRNAs previously thought to take part in various bone-formation processes. Moreover, when some of those miRNAs were introduced into cultures of mesenchymal progenitor cells, the researchers found that 2 specific miRNAs (miR-1 and miR-206) were the most robust osteogenic “enhancers.” Interestingly, those same 2 miRNAs were found to target the downstream transcription factor SOX9, a deficiency of which can lead to a skeletal malformation syndrome.

These findings show that there are indeed early molecular signatures in the tissues of patients whose injuries progress to HO. While these novel insights into the molecular mechanisms underlying the development of HO may open doors to new therapeutic possibilities, Takamitsu Maruyama, PhD, in a commentary on the findings, cautions that modulating miR-1 and miR-206 “could affect not only HO formation but also the bone-healing process.”

Impact Science is a team of highly specialized subject-area experts (Life Sciences, Physical Sciences, Medicine & Humanities) who collaborate with authors, societies, libraries, universities, and various other stakeholders for services to enhance research impact. Through research engagement and science communication, Impact Science aims at democratizing science by making research-backed content accessible to the world.

Cannabis Users Should Disclose Prior to Surgery

Although many patients believe marijuana is an effective agent to treat chronic and nerve pain, the effect of cannabis on acute musculoskeletal pain has been questioned. In an OrthoBuzz post from 2019, we reported findings published in JBJS indicating that, compared with “never users,” patients who reported using marijuana during recovery from a traumatic musculoskeletal injury experienced increases in both total prescribed opioids and duration of opioid use.

At the 2020 annual meeting of the American Society of Anesthesiologists, researchers reported parallel findings. Among 118 patients who underwent open reduction and internal fixation to repair a tibial fracture, 25% reported using cannabis prior to surgery. When researchers compared the patients who had used cannabis with those who had not, they found the following perioperative and postoperative results among the users:

  • A higher intraoperative requirement for inhalation anesthetic
  • Higher reported pain scores while in the postacute care unit after surgery
  • Higher in-hospital postoperative opioid consumption

In a press release about this study, lead author Ian Holmen, MD is quoted as saying, “…it is important for patients to tell their physician anesthesiologist if they have used cannabis products prior to surgery to ensure they receive the best anesthesia and pain control possible.”

New Surgical Approaches Still Welcome

JBJS has long promoted the use of high-level studies to facilitate evidence-based decision making. Still, each year only approximately 10% to 12% of published articles provide Level-I evidence. Although that percentage is increasing, the slope of the upward curve is gentle, largely because of the difficulty in designing and conducting randomized controlled trials (RCTs), and in gathering enough data from existing RCTs to conduct Level-I meta-analyses. The challenge of designing and conducting Level-I studies in orthopaedic surgery is compounded by our need to treat many conditions that are not common enough to make a controlled trial feasible. Consequently, there will always be room for Level-III and Level-IV research in the pages of The Journal (see related JBJS Editorial).

A Level-IV study that focuses on a surgical approach is rare, but in the September 2, 2020 issue of JBJS, Liu et al. describe preliminary results from a new concealed-incision, extrapelvic surgical approach to the anterior pelvic ring. This so-called “Fu-Liu approach” was investigated to treat pubic symphysis diastasis and parasymphyseal fractures, including those of the anterior column. Among the advantages of this approach over the more traditional Pfannenstiel approach are the following:

  • Easier protection of the spermatic cord in males and the round ligament of the uterus in females
  • Less risk to peritoneal internal organs, iliac blood vessels, and femoral nerves
  • Improved aesthetic outcomes (The 2 small incisions are ultimately covered under perineal hair.)
  • Relatively short learning curve

As our field continues to innovate toward less-invasive surgical interventions, such creative approaches are welcome. What we need now are comparative trials focused on this surgical approach versus the time-honored Pfannenstiel approach to convince surgeons and assure patients that the Fu-Liu approach yields limited complications and equal or better radiographic and patient-reported functional outcomes.

Because the conditions to which this approach can be applied are quite variable, such a trial would likely have to be multicenter and focused on pure, open-book, isolated pelvic fractures. We look forward to receiving and reviewing the manuscript describing an adequately powered trial that directly compares these two approaches.

Marc Swiontkowski, MD
JBJS Editor-in-Chief