Every month, JBJS publishes a Specialty Update—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 all OrthoBuzz Specialty Update summaries.
This month, Nitin Jain, MD, MSPH, a co-author of the November 16, 2016 Specialty Update on Orthopaedic Rehabilitation, selected the five most clinically compelling findings from among the more than 40 studies summarized in the Specialty Update.
–A prospective cohort study1 evaluating the benefit of early imaging (within 6 weeks of index visit) for patients ≥65 years old with new-onset back pain found that those with early imaging had significantly higher resource utilization and expenditures compared with matched controls who did not undergo early imaging. One year after the index visit, authors found no significant between-group differences in patient-reported pain or disability. They concluded that “early imaging should not be performed routinely for older adults with acute back pain.”
–A randomized clinical trial2 comparing 10 days of NSAID monotherapy with 10 days of NSAIDs + muscle relaxants or opioids for acute nonradicular low back pain found no significant differences across the groups for pain, functional impairment, or use of health care resources. The authors said these findings suggest that combination therapy is not better than monotherapy in this situation, and that the use of opioids in such patients is not indicated.
Rotator Cuff Tears
–A two year follow-up of a randomized trial comparing three treatments for supraspinatus tears (physiotherapy, physiotherapy + acromioplasty, and rotator cuff repair + acromioplasty +physiotherapy) found no significant pain or function differences among the three groups. However, mean tear size was significantly smaller in the cuff-repair group than in the other two.
–A meta-analysis3 investigating the use of cannabinoids for managing chronic pain and spasticity concluded that those substances reduced pain and spasticity more than placebo, but the benefits came with an increased risk of side effects such as dizziness, nausea, confusion, and loss of balance.
–A randomized controlled trial4 comparing a phone-based cognitive-behavioral/physical therapy (CBPT) program to standard education following lumbar spine surgery found that patients in the CBPT group had greater decreases in pain and disability and increases in general health and physical performance.
- Jarvik JG, Gold LS, Comstock BA, Heagerty PJ, Rundell SD, Turner JA, Avins AL, Bauer Z, Bresnahan BW,Friedly JL, James K, Kessler L, Nedeljkovic SS, Nerenz DR, Shi X, Sullivan SD, Chan L, Schwalb JM, Deyo RA. Association of early imaging for back pain with clinical outcomes in older adults. JAMA. 2015 Mar17;313(11):1143-53.
- Friedman BW, Dym AA, Davitt M, Holden L, Solorzano C, Esses D, Bijur PE, Gallagher EJ. Naproxen with cyclobenzaprine, oxycodone/acetaminophen, or placebo for treating acute low back pain: a randomized clinical trial. JAMA. 2015 Oct 20;314(15):1572-80.
- Whiting PF, Wolff RF, Deshpande S, DiNisio M, Duffy S, Hernandez AV, Keurentjes JC, Lang S, Misso K, Ryder S, Schmidlkofer S, Westwood M, Kleijnen J. Cannabinoids for medical use: a systematic review and meta-analysis. JAMA. 2015 Jun 23-30;313(24):2456-73.
- Skolasky RL, Maggard AM, Li D, Riley LH 3rd., Wegener ST. Health behavior change counseling in surgery for degenerative lumbar spinal stenosis. Part I: improvement in rehabilitation engagement and functional outcomes. Arch Phys Med Rehabil. 2015 Jul;96(7):1200-7. Epub 2015 Mar 28.
Many orthopaedists and primary care clinicians recommend acetaminophen or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) as a first-line approach for patients with osteoarthritis (OA) or back pain. However, two recent studies call into question how well these pharmacological approaches actually work.
A study employing a new-user design and data from the Osteoarthritis Initiative concluded that short-term use of prescription NSAIDs (such as naproxen, celecoxib, and meloxicam) had no clinical effect in more than 1,800 patients with radiographically confirmed knee osteoarthritis. Long-term use (defined as NSAID use reported at three consecutive annual assessments) was associated with clinically important but not statistically significant improvements in stiffness and function (per WOMAC scales), but not pain. Notably, the rate of NSAID use at all three annual assessments was very low, and the authors concluded that the common discontinuation of NSAID use suggested in this study “call[s] for further understanding of the extent to which potential side effects [of NSAIDs] can be mitigated with gastroprotective agents.”
A meta-analysis of acetaminophen’s effectiveness (13 randomized trials with a total of 5,366 patients) found that the medication did not improve pain, disability, or quality of life for back-pain sufferers, and that its pain-relieving effects in people with knee or hip OA were statistically but not clinically significant. These findings led an editorialist commenting on the meta-analysis to conclude that “the time has come to shift our attention away from tablets as the default option for managing chronic musculoskeletal pain.” As alternatives, he recommended topical NSAIDs, physical therapy, and better coaching on patient self-management. The editorialist also emphasized that these findings should not prompt clinicians to increase prescriptions for opioids.
Each month during the coming year, OrthoBuzz will bring 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 will 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 1989, a group of sixty-seven asymptomatic individuals with no history of back pain or sciatica underwent magnetic resonance scans of the lumbar spine. In a landmark 1990 JBJS study, Boden et al. reported that three neuroradiologists who had no clinical knowledge of the patients interpreted the images as being substantially abnormal in 28% of the cohort (19 individuals). More specifically, a herniated nucleus pulposus was identified in 24 % of these asymptomatic subjects. These “magnetic-resonance positive” findings were more prevalent in older subjects; abnormal MRI findings were identified in 57% of those aged 60 to 80 years.
Boden et al. concluded that so many MRI findings of substantial abnormalities in asymptomatic people “emphasized the dangers of predicating a decision to operate on the basis of diagnostic tests—even when a state-of-the-art modality is used—without precise correlation with clinical signs and symptoms.”
However, despite the findings of Boden et al., during the last five years of the 1990s, Medicare claims showed a 40% increase in spine-surgery rates, a 70% increase in fusion-surgery rates, and a two-fold increase in use of spinal implants. Although spine-fusion surgery has a well-established role in treating certain spinal diseases, a 2007 systematic review of several randomized trials indicated that the benefits of fusion surgery were limited when treating degenerative lumbar discs with back pain alone. This review suggested the need for more thorough selection of surgical candidates, which was a caution also implied by Boden et al.
Although the three neuroradiologists in the Boden et al. study largely agreed on the absence or presence of abnormal findings on the MRIs, in 2014 Fu et al. reported on the interrater and intrarater agreements by four reviewers of MRI findings from the lumbar spine of 75 subjects. Even though this study used standardized evaluation criteria, there was significant variability in both interrater and intrarater agreement among the reviewers. As the Boden et al. study did 25 years ago, this study demonstrated the diagnostic limitations of MRI interpretation for lumbar spinal diseases.
In 2001, JBJS published a paper by Borenstein et al. that was a seven-year follow-up study among the same asymptomatic subjects studied by Boden et al. Borenstein et al. found that the original 1989 scans of the lumbar spine were not predictive of the future development or duration of low back pain. This led Borenstein et al. to conclude—as Boden et al. did—that “clinical correlation is essential to determine the importance of abnormalities on magnetic resonance images.”
Many important subsequent studies were inspired by the original findings of Boden et al. in JBJS. Most of them emphasize that for lumbar-spine diagnoses, an MRI is only one (albeit important) piece of data; that interpretation of MRIs is variable; and that all imaging information must be correlated to the specific patient’s clinical condition.
Several studies and national surveys indicate that approximately a quarter of US adults report having had back pain during the past 3 months, making this a common clinical complaint. But the findings of Boden, et al. and subsequent studies remind us that surgery is not always the appropriate treatment.
Daisuke Togawa, MD, PhD
JBJS Deputy Editor
In late April, the FDA issued a safety announcement cautioning that corticosteroids delivered by epidural injection to treat back and neck pain may cause “rare but serious adverse events”–including vision loss, stroke, paralysis, and death. The agency is requiring an additional label warning to increase awareness of the risks, which were confirmed after the FDA reviewed cases from its Adverse Event Reporting System. Although anesthesiologists, physiatrists, and specialists other than orthopaedic surgeons often administer such injections, orthopaedists should note that as far as the FDA is concerned, the safety and efficacy of epidural steroid injections for neck and back pain have not been established. The FDA said it plans to convene an advisory committee later this year to “discuss the benefits and risks of epidural corticosteroid injections and to determine if further FDA actions are needed.”