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Operative and nonoperative treatment of clavicle fractures in adults.

Acta Orthopaedica 2012 Februrary
BACKGROUND AND PURPOSE: Traditionally, clavicle fractures have been treated nonoperatively. However, many recent studies have concentrated on the results of operative treatment. We assessed and compared the outcomes of operative and nonoperative treatment for acute clavicle fractures in adults.

METHODS: We performed a systematic search of the medical literature from 1966 until the end of March 2011. We included randomized controlled trials and controlled clinical trials comparing operative and nonoperative treatment and studies comparing different operative and nonoperative treatments. We required that there should be at least 30 adult patients and a follow-up of at least 6 months in each individual trial. We used the GRADE method to assess the quality of evidence.

RESULTS: 6 randomized controlled trials (n = 631) and 7 controlled clinical trials (n = 559) were included. There was moderate-quality evidence (i.e. of grade B) (1) that surgery has considerable effectiveness on better function and less disability at short follow-up, (2) of similar risk of relatively mild complications after operative or nonoperative treatment, (3) that delayed union and nonunion were more common in patients who were treated nonoperatively than in those treated operatively, and (4) that the osteosynthesis method had no effect on the incidence of delayed union or nonunion. Only 1 controlled clinical trial was found on lateral clavicle fractures with very limited (grade D) evidence.

INTERPRETATION: Patients treated operatively have slightly better function and less disability than those treated nonoperatively at short follow-up, but then the effectiveness diminishes and is weak at 6 months. The different operative techniques may not differ in effectiveness or in adverse effects, but the evidence is very limited or conflicting. Surgery could be considered for active patients who require recovery to the previous level of activity in the shortest possible time.

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