BACKGROUND: A comprehensive overview of treatments of common fractures is missing, although it would be important for shared decision-making in clinical practice. The aim was to determine benefits and harms of surgical compared to non-surgical treatments for traumatic skeletal fractures.
METHODS: We searched Medline, Embase, CINAHL, Web of Science, and CENTRAL until November 2018, for randomized trials of surgical treatment in comparison with or in addition to non-surgical treatment of fractures in adults. For harms, only trials with patient enrollment in 2000 or later were included, while no time restriction was applied to benefits. Two reviewers independently assessed studies for inclusion, extracted data from full-text trials, and performed risk of bias assessment. Outcomes were self-reported pain, function, and quality of life, and serious adverse events (SAEs). Random effects model (Hedges' g) was used.
RESULTS: Out of 28375 records screened, we included 61 trials and performed meta-analysis on 12 fracture types in 11 sites: calcaneus, clavicula, femur, humerus, malleolus, metacarpus, metatarsus, radius, rib, scaphoideum, and thoraco-lumbar spine. Seven other fracture types only had one trial available. For distal radius fractures, the standardized mean difference (SMD) was 0.31 (95% CI 0.10 to 0.53, n = 378 participants) for function, favoring surgery, however, with greater risk of SAEs (RR = 3.10 (1.42 to 6.77), n = 436). For displaced intra-articular calcaneus fractures, SMD was 0.64 (0.13 to 1.16) for function (n = 244) and 0.19 (0.01 to 0.36) for quality of life (n = 506) favoring surgery. Surgery was associated with a smaller risk of SAE than non-surgical treatment for displaced midshaft clavicular fractures (RR = 0.62 (0.42 to 0.92), n = 1394). None of the other comparisons showed statistical significance differences and insufficient data existed for most of the common fracture types.
CONCLUSIONS: Of 12 fracture types with more than one trial, only two demonstrated a difference in favor of surgery (distal radius fractures and displaced intra-articular calcaneus fractures), one of which demonstrated a greater risk of harms in the surgical group (distal radius fractures). Our results highlight the current paucity of high-quality randomized trials for common fracture types and a considerable heterogeneity and risk of bias in several of the available trials.
SYSTEMATIC REVIEW REGISTRATION: PROSPERO CRD42015020805.