Background: During the administration of the oral (Part II) examinations for the American Board of Orthopaedic Surgery over the past nine years, it has been observed that orthopaedic surgeons are opting more often for open treatment as opposed to percutaneous fixation of distal radial fractures. Evidence to support this change in treatment is thought to be deficient. The present study was designed to identify changes in practice patterns regarding operative fixation of distal radial fractures between 1999 and 2007 and to assess the results of those treatments over time.
Methods: As a part of the certification process, Part II candidates submit a six-month case list to the American Board of Orthopaedic Surgery. In the present study, we searched the American Board of Orthopaedic Surgery Part II database to evaluate changes in treatment over time and to identify available outcomes and associated complications of open and percutaneous fixation of distal radial fractures. All distal radial fractures that had been treated surgically over a nine-year period (1999 to 2007) were reviewed. The fractures were categorized according to fixation method with use of surgeon self-reported surgical procedure codes. Comparisons of percentage treatment type by year were made. Utilization was analyzed by geographic region, and open and percutaneous fixation were compared with regard to complications and outcomes as self-reported by candidates during the online application process.
Results: The proportion of fractures that were stabilized with open surgical treatment increased from 42% in 1999 to 81% in 2007 (p < 0.0001). Although the differences were small, surgeon-reported outcomes revealed that a higher percentage of patients who had been managed with percutaneous fixation had no pain and normal function but some deformity as compared with patients who had had open treatment. Patients who had been managed with percutaneous fixation had a higher overall complication rate (14.0% compared with 12.3%; p < 0.006) and a higher rate of infection (5.0% compared with 2.6%; p < 0.0001) than those who had been managed with open treatment. Patients who had had open treatment had a higher rate of nerve palsy and/or injury (2.0% compared with 1.2%; p = 0.001). No other differences in the reported complication rates were found between the two techniques.
Conclusions: A striking shift in fixation strategy for distal radial fractures occurred over the past decade among younger orthopaedic surgeons in the United States. These changes occurred despite a lack of improvement in surgeon-perceived functional outcomes.
Level of Evidence: Therapeutic Level III. See Instructions to Authors for a complete description of levels of evidence.