Health-related quality of life (HRQOL) in adulthood is an important outcome measure for patients diagnosed with juvenile or adolescent idiopathic scoliosis. In the May 16, 2018 issue of The Journal of Bone & Joint Surgery, a cross-sectional study of 1,187 Swedish patients with scoliosis by Diarbakerli et al. reveals patient-reported HRQOL outcomes at an average follow-up of approximately 18 years. Using the Scoliosis Research Society-22r (SRS-22r) and the EuroQol 5-Dimensions (EQ-5D) instruments, the authors analyzed outcomes among those who had been untreated (n = 347), brace-treated (n = 459), or surgically treated (n = 381) in accordance with standards at the time of diagnosis.
The surgically treated group had significantly lower scores in the SRS-22r domains of function and self-image, compared with the scores in those domains among the other two groups. According to Daniel J. Sucato, MD, who commented on the study, those findings “most likely reflect the various effects of the surgical procedure, including the stiffness imparted by the arthrodesis of the spine,… stiffness of the soft tissues, and the presence and awareness of implants and a surgical incision.” Diarbakerli et al. also found that untreated patients did not report a decrease in HRQOL with age.
Interestingly, patients treated surgically had higher SRS-22r satisfaction-domain scores than brace-treated patients, even though overall SRS-22r and EQ-5D scores were lower among surgically treated patients than brace-treated patients. For spine surgeons, one key finding was that “a more caudal extent of fusion may be one of the most important characteristics that negatively affects quality of life” in patients undergoing scoliosis surgery.
With its large number of patients and long-term, patient-focused outcomes, this study generally corroborates findings from previous, smaller studies. But, as Dr. Sucato points out in his commentary, “the brace and surgical groups had treatments that were current at the time but not relevant today, especially as they involved the use of first-generation techniques and instrumentation.”
Relapse of clubfoot deformity has been attributed to non-adherence to post-corrective bracing recommendations. The October 5, 2016 issue of The Journal of Bone & Joint Surgery contains a study by Sangiorgio, et al. in which wireless sensors measured the actual brace use in 44 patients aged 6 months to 4 years who were supposed to use a post-corrective foot abduction orthosis for an average of 12.6 hours per day. The authors compared the mean number of hours of daily brace use as measured by the sensors with the physician-recommended hours and with parent-reported hours of brace use.
Here’s what Sangiorgio et al. found:
–Median brace use recorded by the sensors was 62% of that recommended by the physician and 77% of that reported by parents.
–18% of the patients experienced relapse. The mean number of daily hours of brace use for those patients (5 hours a day) was significantly lower than the 8 hours per day for those who didn’t experience relapse.
While this study suggests that 8 hours or more of daily brace use may be helpful to prevent relapse, studies with larger cohorts will be needed to determine more definitive bracing minimums. Still, the authors say that “routine brace monitoring has the potential to accurately identify patients who are receiving an inadequate number of hours of brace use and facilitate more effective counseling of these families.”
Intraoperative injury to the medial collateral ligament (MCL) is a rare but important complication of total knee arthroplasty (TKA). Surgeons face two basic choices when it happens: intraoperatively converting to a more constrained TKA prosthesis, or primary repair of the MCL followed by protective bracing.
The retrospective review by Bohl et al. in the January 6, 2016 edition of The Journal of Bone & Joint Surgery does not compare those options head-to-head, but with an average follow-up of more than 8 years, it provides solid evidence that intraoperative repair followed by bracing is a successful long-term strategy.
The authors followed 45 TKAs that sustained either an intraoperative midsubstance MCL tear or an avulsion; 35 injuries occurred during a cruciate-retaining procedure, and 10 during a posterior-stabilized TKA. At a mean final follow-up of 99 months:
- There were no symptoms on physical examination of coronal-plane instability
- All patients were capable of community ambulation without an assistive device, and
- The mean HSS knee score had increased from 47 preoperatively to 85.
Five knees (11%) required intervention for stiffness. Although the authors emphasize that “in all cases the brace was set to allow full range of motion of the knee,” bracing may nevertheless have promoted stiffness by inhibiting range of motion in a cohort that included large proportions of obese and morbidly obese patients. This particular finding suggests that range-of-motion exercises should be emphasized after similar surgeries.
One benefit of our digital age is that it allows virtually real-time “conversations” to be published between authors of orthopaedic studies and their colleagues, without the lag time imposed by print.
Case in point is the engaging back-and-forth between James Sanders, MD (co-author of the April 16, 2014 JBJS study titled “Bracing for Idiopathic Scoliosis: How Many Patients Require Treatment to Prevent One Surgery?”) and Hans-Rudolf Weiss, an orthopaedic surgeon from Germany.
The original study found that bracing for idiopathic adolescent scoliosis substantially decreased the risk of curve progression to a surgical range—but only when patients wore the brace at least 10 hours a day. Among those “highly compliant” patients, the number needed to treat to prevent one surgery was 3. However, only 31% of the 126 subjects in the study were highly compliant. The authors also noted that current bracing indications include many curves that would not have progressed to surgical range even if the patient had not worn a brace.
In an eLetter (click on the “eLetters” tab under the article citation), Dr. Weiss stressed that patient compliance with bracing is largely influenced by the physician, but that half of the members of the Scoliosis Research Society do not believe in bracing. He additionally suggested that the findings pertain to the brace designs used in the study and may not be generalizable to other brace types. Dr. Weiss concluded that “long-term corrections can be achieved when recent bracing standards are applied.”
In a response to Dr. Weiss’s eLetter, Dr. Sanders suggested that the recent publication of the BrAIST study, which provided high-level evidence that bracing can prevent progression to a surgical range, has bolstered the ranks of bracing “believers” among orthopaedists. Despite that, Dr. Sanders points out that even strong physician proponents of bracing are “likely to have patients for whom bracing is unacceptable and their compliance poor.” That fact, he says, “makes it our imperative to develop bracing which is effective while still being both comfortable and psychosocially acceptable to patients.”