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Operative vs Nonoperative Treatment of Distal Radius Fractures in Adults: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis.

JAMA Network Open 2020 April 2
Importance: No consensus has been reached to date regarding the optimal treatment for distal radius fractures. The international rate of operative treatment has been increasing, despite higher costs and limited functional outcome evidence to support this shift.

Objectives: To compare functional, clinical, and radiologic outcomes after operative vs nonoperative treatment of distal radius fractures in adults.

Data Sources: The PubMed/MEDLINE, Embase, CENTRAL (Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials), and CINAHL (Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature) databases were searched from inception to June 15, 2019, for studies comparing operative vs nonoperative treatment of distal radius fractures.

Study Selection: Randomized clinical trials (RCTs) and observational studies reporting on the following: acute distal radius fracture with operative treatment (internal or external fixation) vs nonoperative treatment (cast immobilization, splinting, or bracing); patients 18 years or older; and functional outcome. Studies in a language other than English or reporting treatment for refracture were excluded.

Data Extraction and Synthesis: Data extraction was performed independently by 2 reviewers. Effect estimates were pooled using random-effects models and presented as risk ratios (RRs) or mean differences (MDs) with 95% CIs. Data were analyzed in September 2019.

Main Outcomes and Measures: The primary outcome measures included medium-term functional outcome measured with the Disabilities of the Arm, Shoulder and Hand questionnaire (DASH) and the overall complication rate after operative and nonoperative treatment.

Results: A total of 23 unique studies were included, consisting of 8 RCTs and 15 observational studies, that described 2254 unique patients. Among the studies that presented sex data, 1769 patients were women [80.6%]. Overall weighted mean age was 67 [range, 22-90] years). The RCTs included 656 patients (29.1%); observational studies, 1598 patients (70.9%). The overall pooled effect estimates the showed a significant improvement in medium-term (≤1 year) DASH score after operative treatment compared with nonoperative treatment (MD, -5.22 [95% CI, -8.87 to -1.57]; P = .005; I2 = 84%). No difference in complication rate was observed (RR, 1.03 [95% CI, 0.69-1.55]; P = .87; I2 = 62%). A significant improvement in grip strength was noted after operative treatment, measured in kilograms (MD, 2.73 [95% CI, 0.15-5.32]; P = .04; I2 = 79%) and as a percentage of the unaffected side (MD, 8.21 [95% CI, 2.26-14.15]; P = .007; I2 = 76%). No improvement in medium-term DASH score was found in the subgroup of studies that only included patients 60 years or older (MD, -0.98 [95% CI, -3.52 to 1.57]; P = .45; I2 = 34%]), compared with a larger improvement in medium-term DASH score after operative treatment in the other studies that included patients 18 years or older (MD, -7.50 [95% CI, -12.40 to -2.60]; P = .003; I2 = 77%); the difference between these subgroups was statically significant (test for subgroup differences, P = .02).

Conclusions and Relevance: This meta-analysis suggests that operative treatment of distal radius fractures improves the medium-term DASH score and grip strength compared with nonoperative treatment in adults, with no difference in overall complication rate. The findings suggest that operative treatment might be more effective and have a greater effect on the health and well-being of younger, nonelderly patients.

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