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Is nonoperative management of partial distal biceps tears really successful?

BACKGROUND: The current treatment of partial distal biceps tears is a period of nonoperative management, followed by surgery, if symptoms persist. Little is known about the success rate and outcomes of nonoperative management of this illness.

METHODS: We identified 132 patients with partial distal biceps tears through an International Classification of Diseases, Ninth Revision code query of our institution's database. Patient records were reviewed to abstract demographic information and confirm partial tears of the distal biceps tendon based on clinical examination findings and confirmatory magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Seventy-four patients completed an outcome survey.

RESULTS: In our study, 55.7% of the contacted patients who tried a nonoperative course (34 of 61 patients) ultimately underwent surgery, and 13 patients underwent immediate surgery. High-need patients, as defined by occupation, were more likely to report that they recovered ideally if they underwent surgery, as compared with those who did not undergo surgery (odds ratio, 11.58; P = .0138). For low-need patients, the same analysis was not statistically significant (P = .139). There was no difference in satisfaction scores between patients who tried a nonoperative course before surgery and those who underwent immediate surgery (P = .854). An MRI-diagnosed tear of greater than 50% was a predictor of needing surgery (odds ratio, 3.0; P = .006).

CONCLUSIONS: This study has identified clinically relevant information for the treatment of partial distal biceps tears, including the following: the failure rate of nonoperative treatment, the establishment of MRI percent tear as a predictor of failing nonoperative management, the benefit of surgery for the high-need occupational group, and the finding that nonoperative management does not negatively affect outcome if subsequent surgery is necessary.

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