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Statistical Fragility of Randomized Controlled Trials Evaluating Rehabilitation After Arthroscopic Rotator Cuff Repair.

BACKGROUND: Clinical decision-making often relies on evidence-based medicine, derived from objective data with conventional and rigorous statistical tests to evaluate significance. The literature surrounding rehabilitation after rotator cuff repair (RCR) is conflicting, with no defined standard of practice.

PURPOSE: To determine the fragility index (FI) and the fragility quotient (FQ) of randomized controlled trials (RCTs) evaluating rehabilitation protocols after RCR.

STUDY DESIGN: Systematic review.

METHODS: A systematic review was performed according to PRISMA (Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses) guidelines by searching the PubMed, Cochrane Library, and Embase databases for RCTs evaluating rehabilitation protocols after arthroscopic RCRs from 2000 to June 1, 2022. The FI was determined by manipulating the dichotomous outcome events from each article until a reversal of significance with 2 × 2 contingency tables was achieved. The FQ was determined by dividing the FI by the sample size.

RESULTS: Fourteen RCTs with 48 dichotomous outcomes were ultimately included for analysis. The mean FI for the included dichotomous outcomes was 4 (interquartile range, 3-6), suggesting that the reversal of 4 events is required to change study significance. The mean FQ was 0.048. Of the RCTs that reported data regarding loss to follow-up, most studies (58.5%) indicated that >4 patients had been lost to follow-up.

CONCLUSION: The results of RCT studies of RCR rehabilitation protocols are moderately fragile, something clinicians should be aware of when implementing study results into practice. We recommend the inclusion of FI and FQ in addition to standard P values when reporting statistical results in future RCTs with dichotomous outcome variables on this topic.

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