Tag Archive | JBJS

How Many X-Rays Does It Take to Treat a Distal Radial Fracture?

We orthopaedists obtain radiographs for many reasons—to diagnose an unknown problem, to determine the progress of healing, and occasionally because we follow X-ray “dogma” acquired over time. That last reason prompted van Gerven et al. to undertake a multicenter, prospective, randomized controlled trial, the findings of which appear in the August 7, 2019 issue of The Journal.

The authors set out to evaluate the clinical utility of radiographs taken after a distal radial fracture in >300 patients. Some of those fractures were treated nonoperatively, while others underwent operative fixation. Surgeons of the patients randomized to the “usual-care” pathway were instructed to obtain radiographs at 1, 2, 6, and 12 weeks following the injury/surgery. Surgeons of patients in the “reduced-imaging” arm did not obtain radiographs beyond 2 weeks after the injury/surgery unless there was a specific clinical reason for doing so.

The authors found no significant differences between groups in any of the 6 patient-reported outcomes measured in the study, including the DASH score. Furthermore, the complication rates were almost identical between the usual-care (11.4%) and reduced-imaging (11.3%) groups. Not surprisingly, patients in the reduced-imaging group had fewer radiographs obtained (median 3 vs 4) and were exposed to a lower overall dose of ionizing radiation than those in the usual-care group.

Probably because the study was conducted in the Netherlands, it did not address the widespread practice of “defensive medicine” in the US—the unnecessary overuse of medical tests and procedures to reduce the risk of a malpractice claim. While that may limit the external validity of these findings among orthopaedists in the United States, this relatively simple yet well-designed study should remind us that it is important to have a definite clinical purpose when ordering a test of any type. A picture may be worth a thousand words, but sometimes it takes only 2 pictures to tell the full story of a healing distal radial fracture.

Chad A. Krueger, MD
JBJS Deputy Editor for Social Media

The Softer Side of Better Patient Outcomes

It goes almost without saying that a patient’s return to work after an orthopaedic injury or musculoskeletal disorder would correlate with the severity of the condition. But what about the connection between return to work and a more “touchy-feely” parameter, such as the patient-surgeon relationship?

Dubert et al. conducted a longitudinal observational study of 219 patient who were 18 to 65 years of age and had undergone operations for upper-limb injuries or musculoskeletal disorders. In the August 7, 2019 issue of JBJS, they report that a positive relationship between patient and surgeon hastened return to work and reduced total time off from work.

At the time of enrollment (a mean of 149 days after surgery), the authors assessed the patient-surgeon relationship with a validated, 11-item questionnaire called Q-PASREL, and they collected patients’ functional and quality-of-life scores at the same time. The authors then tracked which patients had returned to work 6 months later, and they calculated how many workdays those who did return had missed.

The Q-PASREL questionnaire explores surgeon support provided to the patient, the patience of the surgeon, the surgeon’s appraisal of when the patient can return to work, the cooperation of the surgeon regarding administrative issues, the empathy perceived by the patient, and the surgeon’s use of appropriate vocabulary.

Here is a summary of the findings:

  • At 6 months after enrollment, 74% of patients who had returned to work had given their surgeon a high or medium-high Q-PASREL score. By contrast, 64% of the patients who had not returned to work had given their surgeon a low or medium-low Q-PASREL score.
  • The odds of returning to work were 56% higher among patients who gave surgeons the highest Q-PASREL scores compared with those who gave surgeons the lowest scores.
  • The “body structure” subscore on one of the functional measurements and the Q-PASREL quartile were the only two independent predictors of total time off from work among patients who had returned to work.

After asserting that their study “confirms that surgeons’ relationships with their patients can influence the patients’ satisfaction and outcomes,” Dubert et al. go on to suggest that the findings should prompt surgeons to “work on empathy, time spent with their patients, and communication.” While they rightly claim that such improvements would entail “little financial investment and no side effects,” perhaps the authors, who practice in France, underestimate the effort that goes into changing behavior—and into addressing the time constraints imposed by the US health care system?

Polytrauma Patients Face Cancer Risk from Imaging Radiation

Orthopaedic surgeons work with radiation in some capacity almost every day. We would struggle to provide quality patient care if it were not for the many benefits that radiographic images provide us. But the more we are exposed to something, the less we tend to think about it. For example, how often do we discuss the risks of radiation exposure with our patients—especially those who are exposed to a large amount of it after an acute traumatic injury?

The article by Howard et al. in the August 7, 2019  issue of JBJS strongly suggests that polytrauma patients need to better understand the risks associated with radiation exposure as they progress through treatment of their injuries. The authors evaluated the cumulative 12-month postinjury radiation exposure received by almost 2,400 trauma patients who had an Injury Severity Score of 16+ upon admission. Those patients received a median radiation dose (not counting fluoroscopy) of 18.46 mSv, and their mean radiation exposure was 30.45 mSv. These median-versus-mean data indicate that a small subset of patients received substantially more radiation than others, and in fact, 4.8% of the cohort was exposed to ≥100 mSv of radiation. To put these amounts in context, the average human in the UK (where this study was performed) is exposed to about 2 mSv of background radiation per year, and there is good evidence suggesting that carcinogenesis risk increases with acute radiation doses exceeding 50 mSv.

Based on mathematical models (actual occurrences of cancer were not tracked), the authors conclude that for these patients, the median risk of fatal carcinogenesis as a result of medical radiation following injury was 3.4%. In other terms, 85 of these patients would be expected to develop cancer as a result of medical imaging—which struck me as a startling estimate.

So what are we to do? In a Commentary accompanying this study, David A. Rubin, MD, FACR offers some practical suggestions for reducing unnecessary radiation exposure. I personally feel that because the radiation associated with CT scans and radiographs can be, quite literally, life-saving for patients who have sustained traumatic injuries, increasing the chance that patients develop cancer later in life in order to save their life now is a good risk-benefit proposition. But the findings from this study should make us think twice about which imaging tests we order, and they should encourage us to help patients better understand the risks involved.

Chad A. Krueger, MD
JBJS Deputy Editor for Social Media

Good Outcomes and Savings with Preferred-Vendor Program

It has been said that outcomes of total joint arthroplasty are 90% related to surgeon factors (such as prosthetic alignment and fit and soft-tissue management), and only 10% to the implant itself. Historically, surgeon choices of implants for primary total hip and total knee arthroplasty have been based on influences such as the prostheses used during training, prior vendor relationships, specific patient characteristics, and findings in published literature. Absent evidence that the selection of prosthesis vendor affects patient outcomes to any significant degree, and with the universal focus on lowering health care costs, surgeon implant/vendor preferences have come under close scrutiny.

In the August 7, 2019 issue of The Journal, Boylan et al. study the impact of a voluntary preferred single-vendor program at a large, high-volume, urban orthopaedic hospital with >40 (mostly hospital-employed) arthroplasty surgeons. The hospital’s use of hip and knee arthroplasty implants from the preferred vendor rose from 50% to 69% during the program’s first year. In addition, the mean cost per case of cases in which implants from the preferred vendor were used were 23% lower than the mean cost-per-case numbers from the previous year (p<0.001). Boylan et al. noted that low-volume surgeons adopted the initiative at a higher rate than high-volume surgeons, and that surgeons were more compliant with using the preferred vendor for total knee implants than for total hip implants.

Why is it that some higher-volume surgeons seem resistant to change? It is not clear from the data presented in this study whether the answer is familiarity with an instrument system, loyalty to local representatives, or relationships with manufacturers based on financial or personal connections. The authors observed that “collaboration between surgeons and administrators” was a critical success factor in their program, and interestingly, the 3 highest-volume surgeons in this study (who performed an average of ≥20 qualifying cases per month) all used total knee implants from the preferred vendor prior to the initiation of this program.

The provocative findings from this and similar studies lead to many questions ripe for further research. Because hospitals are highly motivated to reduce implant costs in the bundled-payment environment, preferred-vendor programs are gathering steam. We need to better understand how they work (or don’t) for specific surgeons, within surgical departments, and within hospital/insurance systems in order to evaluate their effects on patient outcomes and maximize any cost benefits.

Marc Swiontkowski, MD
JBJS Editor-in-Chief

What’s New in Musculoskeletal Infection 2019

Every month, JBJS publishes 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, Thomas K. Fehring, MD, co-author of the July 17, 2019 What’s New in Musculoskeletal Infection,” selected the five most clinically compelling findings—all focused on periprosthetic joint infection (PJI)—from among the more than 90 noteworthy studies summarized in the article.

Preventive Irrigation Solutions
–An in vitro study by Campbell et al.1 found that the chlorine-based Dakin solution forms potentially toxic precipitates when mixed with hydrogen peroxide and chlorhexidine. The authors recommend that surgeons not mix irrigation solutions in wounds during surgery.

PJI Diagnosis
–A clinical evaluation by Stone et al. showed that alpha-defensin levels in combination with synovial C-reactive protein had high sensitivity for PJI diagnosis, but the alpha-defensin biomarker can lead to false-positive results in the presence of metallosis and false-negative results in the presence of low-virulence organisms.

–In an investigation of next-generation molecular sequencing for diagnosis of PJI in synovial fluid and tissue, Tarabichi et al. found that in 28 revision cases considered to be infected, cultures were positive in only 61%, while next-generation sequencing was positive in 89%. However, next-generation sequencing also identified microbes in 25% of aseptic revisions that had negative cultures and in 35% of primary total joint arthroplasties. Identification of pathogens in cases considered to be aseptic is concerning and requires further research.

Treating PJI
–A multicenter study found that irrigation and debridement with component retention to treat PJI after total knee arthroplasty had a failure rate of 57% at 4 years.2

–Findings from an 80-patient study by Ford et al.3 challenge the assumption that 2-stage exchanges are highly successful. Fourteen (17.5%) of the patients in the study never underwent reimplantation, 30% had a serious complication, and of the 66 patients with a successful reimplantation, only 73% remained infection-free. Additionally 11% of the patients required a spacer exchange for persistent infection.


  1. Campbell ST, Goodnough LH, Bennett CG, Giori NJ. Antiseptics commonly used in total joint arthroplasty interact and may form toxic products. J Arthroplasty.2018 Mar;33(3):844-6. Epub 2017 Nov 11.
  2. Urish KL, Bullock AG, Kreger AM, Shah NB, Jeong K, Rothenberger SD; Infected Implant Consortium. A multicenter study of irrigation and debridement in total knee arthroplasty periprosthetic joint infection: treatment failure is high. J Arthroplasty.2018 Apr;33(4):1154-9. Epub 2017 Nov 21.
  3. Ford AN, Holzmeister AM, Rees HW, Belich PD. Characterization of outcomes of 2-stage exchange arthroplasty in the treatment of prosthetic joint infections. J Arthroplasty.2018 Jul;33(7S):S224-7. Epub 2018 Feb 17.

“True Grit” Among Millennial Orthopaedists in Training

In a survey-based study published in the July 17, 2019 issue of The Journal of Bone & Joint Surgery, Samuelsen et al. made a hypothesis arising from a popularly held assumption about millennials: that orthopaedic residency applicants (predominantly millennials, with a mean age of 27.3) would have lower grit and self-control scores than attending orthopaedic surgeons (mean age of 51.3). The findings contradicted that hypothesis.

Surveys were completed by 655 (28%) of 2,342 attendings who received the questionnaire and by 455 (50.8%) of 895 orthopaedic residency applicants from the 2016-2017 resident match. The authors found that the residency applicants demonstrated higher mean grit scores (4.12 of 5.0) than the attending orthopaedic surgeons (4.03) (p <0.01). When compared to the general population, residency applicants and attendings scored in the 70th and 65th percentiles of grit, respectively.

The American Heritage Dictionary defines “grit” as “indomitable spirit” or “pluck.” In the medical literature, where “grit” has received a lot of attention lately, the concept is defined as “steadfast passion and perseverance for long-term goals, especially in the setting of hardship and setbacks.” However grit is defined, Samuelson et al. say it “has consistently been proven to be associated with success in…medical environments.”

Three other interesting findings:

  • There were no significant differences in self-control or conscientiousness scores between the 2 groups.
  • Both age and number of years in practice were positively correlated with self-control scores in the practicing-surgeon group.
  • Among attending surgeons, the number of publications correlated with higher grit, self-control, and conscientiousness scores.

Samuelson et al. offer a possible explanation for the impressive grit scores among residency applicants: matching into orthopaedic residency has become increasingly competitive over the past several decades and “applicants to orthopaedic surgery…tend to represent the individuals at the top of their medical school classes.” Conversely, the authors suggest that grit, self-control, and conscientiousness scores could be used to identify applicants, residents, or junior staff “who are at risk for attrition during training or burnout in their careers.”

Having postulated that, however, the authors are quick to add that “it is unclear if [these findings] will be predictive of career success in the next generation of orthopaedists.”

Click here to see a 1-minute video commentary about these findings by Chad A. Krueger, MD, JBJS Deputy Editor for Social Media.

Study Supports Routine Patellar Resurfacing during TKA

The July 17, 2019 issue of The Journal features another investigation evaluating patellar resurfacing. Despite much research (see related OrthoBuzz post), this topic remains controversial among many total knee arthroplasty (TKA) surgeons. This study, by Vertullo et al., analyzed data from the Australian Orthopaedic Association National Joint Replacement Registry. The findings suggest that routine resurfacing of the patella reduces the risk of revision surgery for TKA patients.

The authors evaluated more than 136,000 TKA procedures after placing the cases into three groups based on the surgeon’s patellar-resurfacing preference: infrequent (<10% of the time), selective (10% to 90% of the time), or routine (≥90% of the time). All of the cases evaluated utilized minimally stabilized components and cemented or hybrid fixation techniques, and they all were performed by surgeons who completed at least 50 TKAs per year.

The authors found that patients in the infrequent-resurfacing cohort had a nearly 500% increased risk of undergoing subsequent patellar revision during the first 1.5 years after TKA, compared to those in the routine-resurfacing cohort. Even more surprising to me was the finding that patients in the selective-resurfacing cohort had a >300% increased risk of needing a patellar revision within the first 1.5 years, compared to those in the routine-resurfacing cohort. In addition, the risk of all-cause revision was 20% higher in the selective cohort compared to the routine cohort.

What struck me most about this study were the differences between the selective and routine cohorts. One of the arguments against routine resurfacing of the patella is that surgeons should decide intra-operatively, on a patient-by-patient basis, whether the osteochondral health and biomechanics of the native patella warrant resurfacing. The findings of Vertullo et al. seem to call that reasoning into question. Although the results of this study add to the evidence supporting the routine resurfacing of the patella during TKA, I would like to reiterate a proviso from my earlier post on this topic: resurfacing is associated with added costs and an increased risk of potential complications.

Chad A. Krueger, MD
JBJS Deputy Editor for Social Media

Why US Orthopaedic Residents Overprescribe Opiates

Hydrocodone Has Dark Side as Recreational DrugSeveral authors have described the medical-school experience as “socialization” into the medical field. Medical students often learn the scientific underpinnings simultaneously with the social processes of interviewing/dialoging, examining, and then developing a treatment plan with the patient. One “subspecialty” social process that orthopaedists learn is pain management. While we are certainly encouraged to understand the scientific basis of this important and complex topic, much of the learning comes in the form of mirroring: junior residents do what senior residents instruct them to do, while senior residents follow the direction of attendings. These passed-on habits are culturally ingrained and persistent.

As Young et al. show in the July 17, 2019 issue of The Journal, the pain-management habits learned in training vary greatly from country to country, which is not surprising. Specifically, these authors examined the prescribing of postprocedural opiates by residents in the Netherlands, Haiti, and United States. They found that US residents prescribe significantly more morphine milligram equivalents (MMEs) of opioids at patient discharge than residents from either of the other 2 countries. The authors also showed that residents from the United States were the only group prescribing a significantly greater amount of MMEs to patients younger than 40 years old than to those above the age of 70.

Many pundits pin the phenomenon of opioid overprescribing in the US on the American public’s wish to be free from discomfort, along with the aggressive marketing and advertising of these medications in the United States. While this may be true, I think Young et al. have further identified the major influence that a resident’s training environment may have on prescribing practices. As already mentioned, residents often imitate what they see from more experienced residents and attendings, but sometimes those lessons, especially in pain management, lack a scientific basis.

What is missing from this survey-based study is data on patient satisfaction with postprocedural opiate prescribing. Having been involved in clinical care in Haiti, my impression is that patients there accept the local practice of pain management, constrained as it might be by resource limitations. I suspect the same is true in the United States and the Netherlands. Regardless, these findings demand that emphasis be placed on teaching orthopaedic residents evidence-based pain-management protocols. This will require a concerted effort from teachers and mentors at all levels of our medical-education system. This investigation is an important reminder that developing solutions to the opioid overprescribing problem in the US might begin in residency, where “cultural formation” occurs.

Marc Swiontkowski, MD
JBJS Editor-in-Chief

What’s New in Orthopaedic Trauma 2019

Every month, JBJS publishes 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, Chad A. Krueger, MD, JBJS Deputy Editor for Social Media, selected the five most clinically compelling findings from among the 25 noteworthy studies summarized in the July 3, 2019 What’s New in Orthopaedic Trauma” article.

Proximal Humeral Fractures in the Elderly
–A recent meta-analysis1 analyzing data from >1,700 patients older than 65 who experienced a proximal humeral fracture found no difference in Constant-Murley scores at 1 year between those treated operatively (most with ORIF using a locking plate) and those treated nonoperatively. There was also no between-group difference with respect to reoperation rates among a subgroup of patients from the 7 randomized trials examined in the meta-analysis.

Elbow Dislocation
–A study using MRI to evaluate soft-tissue injuries in 17 cases of “simple elbow dislocation”2 found that the most common soft-tissue injury was a complete tear of the anterior capsule (71% of cases), followed by complete medial collateral ligament (MCL) tears (59%) and lateral collateral ligament tears (53%). These findings challenge previous theories positing that elbow instability starts laterally, with the MCL being the last structure to be injured.

Pertrochanteric Hip Fractures
–A trial randomized 220 patients with a pertrochanteric fracture to receive either a short or long cephalomedullary nail.3 There were no significant differences between the 2 groups at 3 months postsurgery in terms of Harris hip and SF-36 scores, but patients treated with the short nail had significantly shorter operative times, less blood loss, and shorter hospital stays. The incidence of peri-implant fractures between the 2 devices was similar.

 Ankle Syndesmosis Injuries
–A randomized trial involving 97 patients with syndesmosis injuries compared functional and radiographic outcomes between those treated with a single syndesmotic screw and those treated with suture-button fixation. At 6 months, 1 year, and 2 years after surgery, patients in the suture-button group had better AOFAS scores than those in the screw group. CT scans at 2 years revealed a significantly higher tibiofibular distance among the screw group, an increase in malreduction that was noted only after screw removal. That finding could argue against early routine syndesmotic screw removal.

Infection Prevention
–A randomized trial among 470 patients4 facing elective removal of hardware used to treat a below-the-knee fracture compared the effect of intravenous cefazolin versus saline solution in preventing surgical site infections (SSIs). The SSI rate was surprisingly high in both groups (13.2% in the cefazolin group and 14.9% in the saline-solution group), with no statistically significant between-group differences. The authors recommend caution in interpreting these results, noting that there may have been SSI-diagnosis errors and that local factors not applicable to other settings or regions may have contributed to the high SSI rates.


  1. Beks RB, Ochen Y, Frima H, Smeeing DPJ, van der Meijden O, Timmers TK, van der Velde D, van Heijl M, Leenen LPH,Groenwold RHH, Houwert RM. Operative versus nonoperative treatment of proximal humeral fractures: a systematic review, meta-analysis, and comparison of observational studies and randomized controlled trials. J Shoulder Elbow Surg.2018 Aug;27(8):1526-34. Epub 2018 May 4.
  2. Luokkala T, Temperley D, Basu S, Karjalainen TV, Watts AC. Analysis of magnetic resonance imaging-confirmed soft tissue injury pattern in simple elbow dislocations. J Shoulder Elbow Surg.2019 Feb;28(2):341-8. Epub 2018 Nov 8.
  3. Shannon S, Yuan B, Cross W, Barlow J, Torchia M, Sems A. Short versus long cephalomedullary nailing of pertrochanteric hip fractures: a randomized prospective study. Read at the Annual Meeting of the Orthopaedic Trauma Association; 2018 Oct 17-20; Orlando, FL. Paper no. 68.
  4. Backes M, Dingemans SA, Dijkgraaf MGW, van den Berg HR, van Dijkman B, Hoogendoorn JM, Joosse P, Ritchie ED,Roerdink WH, Schots JPM, Sosef NL, Spijkerman IJB, Twigt BA, van der Veen AH, van Veen RN, Vermeulen J, Vos DI,Winkelhagen J, Goslings JC, Schepers T; WIFI Collaboration Group. Effect of antibiotic prophylaxis on surgical site infections following removal of orthopedic implants used for treatment of foot, ankle, and lower leg fractures: a randomized clinical trial. 2017 Dec 26;318(24):2438-45.

Step Monitors Yield New Insight into Ankle Surgery Outcomes

Patients considering surgery for end-stage ankle arthritis often ask which  treatment—arthroplasty or arthrodesis—will help the most. Findings from various studies attempting to answer that complex question have been equivocal. In the July 3, 2019 issue of The Journal of Bone & Joint Surgery, Shofer et al. inject some objective data gleaned from step counters worn by 234 patients into this predominantly subjective question.

All patients were treated with either arthroplasty (n = 145) or arthrodesis (n = 89). Their step activity was measured with a StepWatch 3 Activity Monitor preoperatively and at 6, 12, 24, and 36 months postoperatively. In both groups combined, step counts during “high activity” (>40 steps per minute) increased by 46% over 36 months. At 6 months, the mean high-activity step improvement was 194 steps in the arthroplasty group, compared with a mean decline of 44 steps for the arthrodesis group. However, by 36 months after surgery, the between-group differences in high-activity steps had disappeared.

The authors also analyzed associations between the objective step results and 3 patient-reported outcomes (the Musculoskeletal Function Assessment and the SF-36 physical function and pain scores). Unlike the patient-reported scores, which improved dramatically in the first 6 months and then plateaued, improvements in step activity increased gradually throughout the 3-year follow-up.

The authors emphasized that during the first 12 postoperative months, the arthrodesis patients had little or no improvement in step activity, but at 3 years there were no significant differences between arthrodesis and arthroplasty patients. These findings suggest that, in this clinical scenario, an individual patient’s expectations with the pace of improvement may be a suitable topic during shared decision making conversations.

This study does not entirely reconcile previously equivocal findings regarding arthroplasty-versus-arthrodesis, but it does emphasize the substantial and sustained activity benefits that patients in both groups receive. Shofer et al. conclude that objective measurements from wearable technology “may complement patient-reported outcomes” in future longitudinal outcome studies of many orthopaedic treatments.