Surgical versus non-surgical treatment for acute anterior shoulder dislocation

The objective of this review was to compare surgical versus non-surgical treatment for acute anterior dislocation of the shoulder.  The four included studies involved 163 participants, mainly active young adult males. All had had a primary (first time) traumatic anterior shoulder dislocation. Methodological quality was variable.  All participants of one trial returned to active military duty. Two trials respectively reported similar numbers with reduced sports participation or non return to previous activities. The other, an inadequately reported, trial found significantly fewer people in the surgical group failed to attain previous levels of sports activity.  Pooled results from all four trials showed that subsequent instability, either redislocation or subluxation, was statistically significantly less frequent in the surgical group (risk ratio 0.25, 95% confidence interval 0.14 to 0.44). This result remained statistically significant (risk ratio 0.32, 95% confidence interval 0.17 to 0.59) for the three trials reported in full. Half (17/33) of the conservatively treated patients with shoulder instability in these three trials opted for subsequent surgery.  Different, mainly patient rated, functional assessment measures for the shoulder were recorded in these trials. The results were more favourable, usually statistically significantly so, in those treated surgically.

Limited evidence supports primary surgery for young adults, usually male, engaged in highly demanding physical activities who have sustained their first acute traumatic shoulder dislocation. There is no evidence available to determine which treatment is better for other patient groups.  Sufficiently powered, good quality, well reported randomised trials are required that compare surgical treatment with conservative treatment for these injuries, including in people at lower risk of recurrence. Long-term surveillance of outcome, looking at shoulder disorders including osteoarthritis is also required.

Helen HG Handoll, Mohammed A Al-Maiyah. Surgical versus non-surgical treatment for acute anterior shoulder dislocation. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2010;(1):CD004325

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Research article posted by: Rachael Lowe

Rachael Lowe is Co-Founder and Executive Director of Physiopedia. A physiotherapist and technology specialist Rachael has been working with Physiopedia since 2008 to create a resource that provides universal access to physiotherapy knowledge as well as a platform for connecting and educating the global physiotherapy profession.

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