During the last two decades, we have made tremendous progress in orthopaedic surgery in terms of limiting the negative impact of surgical dissection on patient functional outcomes. The expanding use of the arthroscope has been at the forefront of these advances. Limiting the breadth, depth, and imprecision of surgical dissection has obvious benefits that have been well documented in hundreds of musculoskeletal procedures.
In the August 3, 2016 issue of The Journal, Kim et al. demonstrate arthroscopic repair of elbow instability following elbow dislocations with injury to the lateral ulnar collateral ligament. Despite the notable success reported by the authors in 13 patients, arthroscopic elbow ligament repair is obviously a technique that requires careful preparation, and patients should be advised to work with a surgeon who is experienced in this specific application of arthroscopy.
This study does not address the question of whether or not surgery is indicated for an individual patient with post-dislocation elbow instability. Comparing outcomes among surgically managed and non-surgically managed patients would be the mode of addressing that important question. Nevertheless, we should continue efforts to advance “limited surgical damage” approaches by applying appropriate clinical research designs to clarify the reward /risk tradeoffs related to patient outcomes.
Marc Swiontkowski, MD
Many orthopaedists wonder whether—or under what circumstances—arthroscopy confers any clinical benefit in treating hip osteoarthritis. A prospective matched-pair analysis by Chandrasekaran et al. in the June 15, 2016 Journal of Bone & Joint Surgery suggests that arthroscopy does not help prevent the eventual conversion to total hip arthroplasty (THA) in hips with Tönnis grade-2 arthritis (moderate narrowing of the joint space with moderate loss of femoral-head sphericity).
The authors compared two-year outcomes from 37 patients with Tönnis grade-2 hip osteoarthritis who had a hip arthroscopy performed with outcomes from matched cohorts of 37 Tönnis grade-0 and 37 grade-1 hips on which arthroscopy was also performed. In all cases, arthroscopy sought to address symptomatic intra-articular hip disorders refractory to nonoperative management. The cohorts were matched to minimize the confounding effects of age, sex, and BMI on the outcomes.
There were no significant differences among the groups with respect to four patient-reported outcome measures (including the modified Harris hip score), VAS pain scores, and patient satisfaction levels. However, Tönnis grade-2 hips had a significantly higher conversion rate to THA compared to the other two matched cohorts. In absolute terms, a subsequent THA was required for 3 hips in the Tönnis grade-0 group, 5 in the Tönnis grade-1 group, and 15 in the Tönnis grade-2 group.
From this finding, the authors conclude that “hip arthroscopy has a limited role as a joint preservation procedure in select patients with Tönnis grade-2 osteoarthritis…Hip arthroscopy can effectively restore the labral seal and address impingement, but patients may continue to experience symptoms associated with the osteoarthritis.”
The indications for arthroscopic treatment of musculoskeletal injuries continue to expand as orthopaedists find new and creative ways to apply this flexible technology. The May 2016 “Case Connections” article springboards from a May 25, 2016 JBJS Case Connector report about an isolated avulsion of the teres minor tendon that was repaired arthroscopically. That unique case is linked to three others from the JBJS Case Connector archive:
- Arthroscopic treatment of a knee flexion contracture
- Arthroscopic reduction/fixation of an acetabular rim fracture
- Arthroscopically assisted medial femoral condyle reduction
As impressive as these minimally invasive solutions are, orthopaedists should always keep in mind that arthroscopy, like any other surgical procedure, is not without its potential complications (see related “Case Connections” article).
Surgeons in the US perform more than 700,000 knee arthroscopies annually, but a recent BMJ systematic review/meta-analysis suggests that the pain-relief efficacy of those procedures in middle aged and older adults with degenerative knee disease are inconsequential and short-lived.
In analyzing nine randomized trials that assessed the benefits of knee arthroscopy versus control treatments including exercise and sham surgery among almost 1300 patients, the Scandinavian authors found marginal improvements in pain at three and six months after surgery, but not thereafter (overall effect size of 0.14). The results were similar in subgroups with radiographically confirmed osteoarthritis.
In analyzing nine other studies (two randomized and seven observational) assessing possible harm from knee arthroscopy, authors found non-negligible rates of adverse effects, including deep vein thrombosis (4 events per 1000 surgeries), infection (2 events per 1000 surgeries), and pulmonary embolism and death (1 event each per 1000 surgeries).
The authors conclude that these findings “do not support the practise of arthroscopic surgery for middle aged or older patients with knee pain with or without signs of osteoarthritis.”
In an accompanying editorial, Andrew Carr, FRCS, from the UK’s Botnar Research Centre, notes that only two of the nine randomized trials analyzed to determine benefit were adequately blinded, but he basically agrees that “in robust and bias-free trials that use placebo controls, active treatment works no better than control treatment.” Considering the harm analysis the authors present, Dr. Carr concludes that “we may be close to a tipping point where the weight of evidence against arthroscopic knee surgery for pain is enough to overcome concerns about the quality of the studies, confirmation bias, and vested interests.”
OrthoBuzz readers, are we near that tipping point—or beyond it?
The April 1, 2015 JBJS features a level II prognostic study that analyzes registry data from 243 patients (mean age: 29) who underwent arthroscopic surgery to correct femoroacetabular impingement (FAI). Almost everyone experienced clinically important and statistically significant post-arthroscopy improvements in patient-reported outcomes. However, those with relative femoral retroversion (<5° anteversion) prior to surgery experienced smaller magnitudes of improvement than those with normal or increased femoral version.
Researchers found no association between the participants’ McKibbin index (calculated from both femoral and acetabular version) and patient-reported outcomes.
According to the authors and to commentator Keith Baumgarten, MD, these results indicate that surgeons should not consider femoral retroversion to be an absolute contraindication to arthroscopic correction of FAI. However, while the findings may help orthopaedists offer prognostic counseling to young and middle-aged adults who are considering arthroscopy for FAI, the authors say the findings “may not be externally valid in adolescents,” who represent a substantial percentage of patients diagnosed with this hip condition.