A new study shows that keeping the arm in a sling is just as effective at curing a shoulder fracture as inserting plates and screws. While this is counterintuitive, the results presented themselves. This is great news for anyone who has a bone fracture, and it can significantly affect surgery rates and lower risks for fractures.
What happens in a bone fracture?
A bone fracture occurs when a bone breaks, most often due to a fall. If the break is not treated, the bone may grow back together in a distorted way. There are several types of bone fractures. These are some of the more common ones:
- Greenstick – in this type of fracture, the bone is not completely broken, but rather “bent.”
- Transverse – a straight break across the bone.
- Spiral – a break that twists around the bone.
- Oblique – a diagonal break across the bone.
- Compression – the bone gets compressed is flatter in some places.
The usual course of action
Researchers in Denmark, Sweden, Finland and Estonia studied what would happen if doctors veered from the standard mode of care and try a less invasive solution – the simplest treatment, a sling.
They studied 88 people who had a shoulder fracture. All were over the age of 60 and had displaced fractures, which means that the broken bones were not aligned. This type of bone fracture is generally associated with a fall. The standard treatment for this is surgery to connect the bones with screws and plates. This, obviously, is a highly invasive surgery that comes with its own risks, especially in the senior population. Half of the study participants received the standard surgery, and the other half had their arms in a sling – no more. All of the participants in the study had equivalent rehabilitation with a physical therapist, and the researchers followed their progress over a 2 year period.
Results of the study
The researchers evaluated the efficacy of the treatments based on the patient’s answers about pain, function, and their quality of life. The surprising but very welcome answers showed that there was no difference between the two groups, and these results were already apparent after the one year mark. These findings challenge the conventional notions of how to treat a bone fracture, and can lead to deeper questions about how different medical procedures are performed and how necessary invasive surgery really is. The lead author of the study said, “Our conclusion must therefore be that the least intrusive form of treatment shows itself to be the best…treatment with only a sling should be preferred, as the patients thereby avoid surgery-related pain and complications.” Considering the risks associated with surgery, it’s common sense to avoid it if possible, and certainly when there are less invasive alternatives that show the same results.
At Sinai Post Acute Care Center for Rehabilitation in Newark, New Jersey, we’ll take care of you while you recover from a shoulder fracture or any bone fracture, with inpatient or outpatient services that you need. We offer high level physical therapy with top notch practitioners and excellent post acute care.