clavicle fracture and return to play

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Primum non nocere – First, do no harm

It was a win or go home week in the NF and for many teams on the bubble, a loss brought an end to their playoff dreams for the year. For fans of the Green Bay Packers, their loss to Carolina effectively ended their season. But with still two games to go, the Packer faithful’s next worry was whether injured and almost rehabilitated Aaron Rodgers should be allowed to play those last two games. Though the team medical staff cleared him to play after surgery, was he really okay or had they rushed him back with the hopes of leading the team to victory and a run to the post-season.

Back up 2 months, where quarterback Rodgers breaks his right clavicle (collarbone) as he is tackled and thrown to the ground. It’s his dominant arm, the throwing shoulder, and a decision is made to undergo surgery, open reduction and internal fixation, with plates and screws to keep the bone fragments aligned while they heal. Now here we are almost eight weeks later, and Rodgers is cleared to play but after the loss there are effectively two meaningless games left and should he take the risk of playing. The question becomes, is there a difference between cleared to play and totally healed.

The clavicle lies just below the skin and is easily felt. its S-shape, from the breastbone (sternum) to the shoulder joint, allows the muscles that move the shoulder more room and freedom to do their job. As well, the bone protects the major arteries and veins that run from the heart to the arms and neck. It is a commonly broken bone, but no break is the same treatment depends upon  a variety of considerations: upon the type of break (one or multiple pieces, is the skin torn), where in the clavicle the break occurs (near each end when the bone attaches to another, or in the middle) and what stresses will be put on the bone once it heals. For most people, the treatment is a sling to allow the bone to heal on its own.

There are a variety of reasons to consider surgery, but the benefit of an operation should outweigh the risk. Some indications for surgery ( ORIF=open reduction and internal fixation) include shortening or overlapping of bone ends, tenting of the skin because of bone fragment, and displacement of the bone so that it potentially affects the arteriues, veins, nerves and other structures that run beneath it. But with surgery comes some risk including infection, blood clots (deep vein thrombosis or DVT), delayed or non-union where the bone at the fracture site doesn’t heal, and malunion, where the bones heal in an unacceptable position.

 

 

Shortened, overlapping fracture                Plate and screw ORIF

 

A quick aside. When it comes to bone: fracture, break, crack all mean the same thing.

 

Mr. Rodgers has surgery to repair the collarbone and is cleared to play, but is he healed?

There are four phases of bone healing:

  • During the first phase and lasting about a week, there is the inflammatory response. Bleeding happens where the bone ends break and this causes a nonspecific inflammation response, no different than what occurs with any other injury in the body. Signals get sent to the body to mobilize and deliver the cells that fix things and they show up at the fracture site to do their work.
  • Within a week, phase two begins with granulation tissue forming a bridge between the ends of the two ends of the fracture. It’s important to not have the broken bone ends move much so that the bridging can occur and a soft callus of immature bone can be laid down.
  • Once the initially bridging occurs, phase three starts and osteoblasts (osteo=bone +blast=immature) and chondroblasts (chondro=cartilage) invade the area to start the formal bone rebuilding process. In the next many weeks, from 4-16 (1-4 months), the body lays down bone and cartilage woven together to form a scaffolding to promote a bony callus, a glob of bone that has calcium laid down for strength.
  • The final fourth phase may take months or years to complete. The bony callus is replaced with harder and stronger lamellar bone that is layered in parallel to the bone and allows reshaping and remodeling.

And that is where the question now lies with Mr. Rodgers, the Packers, their fans and the medical staff. Once phase three is complete, a player can return to play, knowing that the bone has healed enough to function, but the healing process is not necessarily complete and there is no magic test to say that phase three is done. The question becomes whether the bone is strong enough to withstand another trauma and is there a risk for re-fracture? When Tony Romo, then of the Dallas Cowboys and now a television analyst broke his collarbone early in the 2015 season, he sat out seven weeks to heal, but two weeks later he reinjured the site and subsequently needed surgery for repair. With repeated exams, and x-rays, the science of medicine would have said that he was ready to go, but that was proven wrong retrospectively by the bone breaking again.

And the answer for Packer Nation? The art and science of medicine do not always align….so who knows.

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narcotics role is changing

Monday, August 29, 2016

Football is a violent sport and with it comes injury and that begets pain. Some injuries are self-evident, like the tibia and fibula fracture sustained by Chicago Bears quarterback, Connor Shaw. His leg was splinted and he was carted off the field in obvious pain. Other injuries take some time to sort out, like the Cowboys’ Tony Romo, who failed to talk his way into playing in the same game and was later found to have a compression fracture of his lumbar spine. Both injuries hurt and both players will likely be prescribed narcotic pain medication in the first few days of recovery. NFL players have been known to take a variety of legal and illicit medications to allow them to play through the pain each weekend, but that mindset does not translate well into the real world off the playing field.

The Fifth Vital Sign

Not too long ago, pain was added to the medical mind frame as the fifth vital sign. It followed blood pressure, pulse respiratory rate and temperature. Regardless of the reason for the doctor’s visit, patients were often asked whether they were having pain and their assessment, often on a scale of zero to ten. Kids had the smiley/ frowny face pain scale option. Pain is not normal and medicine is all about keeping vital signs in their normal range. Patients didn’t want to hurt and it was easy for a doctor to write a prescription for narcotics.

Doctors like to make their patients feel better but there was another benefit to writing the prescription. Patient satisfaction scores for doctor performance might have been tied to giving patients what they want. Who knew that excessive narcotic prescribing habits might lead to an increase in drug dependence, addiction and become a gateway to the increase abuse of heroin and other illegal street drugs.

The pendulum is beginning to swing back and patients might take a while to understand that a pain-free life may not be available through the use of narcotics. They may not like the doctor who says no to their request and those negative feelings are being expressed by examples of falling patient satisfaction scores.

Wisconsin Prescribing Guidelines

The Wisconsin Medical Examining Board, the governing agency that licenses doctors in the state) has published guidelines about prescribing narcotics, including when to use them what drug to prescribe, how many pills and the expectation to look for patients who exhibit drug seeking behavior. Doctors in the state need to listen and act according. Without a medical license, their career has effectively ended. Just a few of the highlights:

  • It is difficult to know how much a patient hurts. Find out why there is pain and treat the underlying cause. Use non-opioid (non-narcotic) medicines like acetaminophen, ibuprofen or naproxen.
  • If prescribing narcotics, use the lowest dose and fewest number of pills. Most patients will need less than three days of treatment and rarely more than five.
  • There is little evidence that narcotics should be used to treat chronic pain.
  • “Physicians should avoid using intravenous or intramuscular opioid injections for patients with exacerbations of chronic non-cancer pain in the emergency department or urgent care setting.
  • Physicians are encouraged to check Wisconsin Prescription Drug Monitoring Program website to see whether the patient is already receiving narcotics from other doctors. This becomes law in April, 2017 before prescribing any controlled substance for greater than a three-day supply.
  • “The use of oxycodone is discouraged.”

Patient Satisfaction

Patients may not be satisfied with the result of their doctor visit if expectations for pain control are not met. This might be especially true for chronic pain patients who have come to rely on narcotics for their symptom control. It may take time to consider treatment alternatives and still meet the needs and demands of the patient.

The New York Times reported on the experience at Marion (Indiana) General Hospital. Over the course of 18 months, emergency physicians decreased their narcotic prescribing by 50%. Patients weren’t happy and ER satisfaction scores fell from the 58th percentile (of 1100 similar hospitals) to the 14th. Does that mean that the doctors practiced bad medicine or did it mean that there was a disconnect between what the patient wanted and what they received. The words of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards might have been ahead of their time describing this phenomenon.

You can’t always get what you want…you get what you need.

 

 

 

 

 

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