OrthoBuzz occasionally receives posts from guest bloggers. This guest post comes from E. Scott Paxton, MD, in response to a recent “Rapid Recommendation” in The BMJ.
An international panel convened by The BMJ recently issued a “Rapid Recommendation” that strongly recommends against using low-intensity pulsed ultrasound (LIPUS) in patients with fracture or osteotomy because the treatment doesn’t improve functional recovery or pain.1
The systematic review on which the recommendation was based reviewed 26 trials of nearly 1600 patients with fracture or osteotomy who were randomized to either LIPUS or sham/no device.2 The authors concluded with moderate to high levels of certainty that the treatment had little effect on the time patients could return to work, time to full weight-bearing activity, pain levels, future operations, or time to radiographic healing.
In 2009, Busse et al. performed a similar meta-analysis, concluding that “evidence for the effect of low intensity pulsed ultrasonography on healing of fractures is moderate to very low in quality and provides conflicting results.”3 This analysis only included 13 trials, however. Then, in 2016, Busse et al. published results from the TRUST study,4 a blinded, randomized controlled trial of 501 patients from 43 North American academic trauma centers who had a fresh tibial shaft fracture treated with intramedullary nailing. The authors based their sample size calculations on the minimal clinically important difference on the SF-36 PCS, as this was a co-primary outcome. The authors found no improvement in radiographic healing time or functional recovery with the use of LIPUS. However, the authors noted that only 1 nonunion occurred among 195 sham-treated patients, demonstrating that this group was at extremely low risk for nonunion at baseline.
Including the TRUST trial in the 2017 meta-analysis of LIPUS led Schandelmaier et al. to the aforementioned conclusions and informed the strong BMJ Rapid Recommendation against the use of LIPUS for patients with any bone fracture or osteotomy. However, this recommendation was based in large part on the TRUST trial, which was unable to directly assess the effectiveness of LIPUS on reducing nonunion rates because of the almost universal healing of the fractures studied.
The BMJ Rapid Recommendation states “there was high quality evidence showing a lack of benefit in accelerating healing for fresh fractures; thus it is unlikely that LIPUS would improve outcomes in patients with non-union.” However, the effect of LIPUS on preventing nonunions in fractures known to have high nonunion rates or on treating established nonunions will require further high-quality studies looking at those patients specifically.
Scott Paxton, MD is an assistant professor in the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery at the Warren Alpert Medical School at Brown University and a fellowship-trained shoulder and elbow surgeon at University Orthopedics in Providence, Rhode Island.
- Poolman RW, Agoritsas T, Siemieniuk RAC, et al. Low intensity pulsed ultrasound (LIPUS) for bone healing: a clinical practice guideline. BMJ. February 2017:j576-j576. doi:10.1136/bmj.j576.
- Schandelmaier S, Kaushal A, Lytvyn L, et al. Low intensity pulsed ultrasound for bone healing: systematic review of randomized controlled trials. BMJ. 2017;356:j656. doi:10.1136/bmj.j656.
- Busse JW, Kaur J, Mollon B, et al. Low intensity pulsed ultrasonography for fractures: systematic review of randomised controlled trials. BMJ. 2009;338:b351. doi:10.1136/bmj.b351.
- TRUST Investigators writing group, Busse JW, Bhandari M, et al. Re-evaluation of low intensity pulsed ultrasound in treatment of tibial fractures (TRUST): randomized clinical trial. BMJ. 2016;355:i5351. doi:10.1136/bmj.i5351.
OrthoBuzz 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
Researchers at Vanderbilt University Medical Center have concluded that fibrin, a protein involved in blood clotting and found abundantly around the site of new bone fractures, impedes rather than supports fracture healing.
Their recent study in The Journal of Clinical Investigation looked at mice that had experimentally induced deficits in either fibrin production or fibrin clearance. Researchers found normal fracture repair in mice without fibrin and impaired vascularization and fracture healing in mice with inhibited fibrin clearance. They also saw increased heterotopic ossification in the mice unable to remove fibrin.
In a Vanderbilt press release, study coauthor Jonathan Schoenecker, MD, commented that “any condition associated with vascular disease and thrombosis will impair fracture healing.” These findings, he suggested, may explain why obesity, diabetes, smoking, and old age—all of which are associated with impaired fibrin clearance—are also associated with impaired fracture healing. Dr. Schoenecker went on to speculate that anti-clotting drugs commonly used to treat cardiovascular conditions may find new applications in enhancing fracture repair.