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Cochrane in CORR®

Conservative Management Following Closed Reduction of Traumatic Anterior Dislocation of the Shoulder

Prada, Carlos MD, MHA; Bhandari, Mohit MD, PhD, FRCSC

Clinical Orthopaedics and Related Research®: September 2019 - Volume 477 - Issue 9 - p 1984–1990
doi: 10.1097/CORR.0000000000000907

C. Prada, M. Bhandari, Division of Orthopaedics, Department of Surgery, McMaster University, Hamilton, ON Canada, Centre for Evidence-Based Orthopaedics, 293 Wellington St. N, Suite 110, Hamilton, ON L8L 8E7 Canada

Mohit Bhandari MD, PhD, FRCSC, McMaster University, 293 Wellington Street North, Suite 110, Hamilton, ON L8L 8E7, Canada, Email:

A note from the Editor-in-Chief: We are pleased to publish the next installment of Cochrane in CORR®, our partnership between CORR®, The Cochrane Collaboration®, and McMaster University’s Evidence-Based Orthopaedics Group. In this column, researchers from McMaster University and other institutions will provide expert perspective on an abstract originally published in The Cochrane Library that we think is especially important.

(Braun C, McRobert CJ. Conservative management following closed reduction of traumatic anterior dislocation of the shoulder. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2019, Issue 5. Art. No.: CD004962. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD004962.pub4.).

Copyright © 2019 The Cochrane Collaboration. Published by John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Reproduced with permission.

The authors certify that neither they, nor any members of their immediate families, have any commercial associations (such as consultancies, stock ownership, equity interest, patent/licensing arrangements, etc.) that might pose a conflict of interest in connection with the submitted article.

All ICMJE Conflict of Interest Forms for authors and Clinical Orthopaedics and Related Research® editors and board members are on file with the publication and can be viewed on request.

The opinions expressed are those of the writers, and do not reflect the opinion or policy of CORR® or The Association of Bone and Joint Surgeons®.

Cochrane Reviews are regularly updated as new evidence emerges and in response to feedback, and The Cochrane Library ( should be consulted for the most recent version of the review.

This Cochrane in CORR ® column refers to the abstract available at: DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD004962.pub4.

Received June 24, 2019

Accepted July 05, 2019

Online date: August 14, 2019

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Importance of the Topic

Shoulder dislocations are the most-frequent major joint dislocation in adults [17]; more than 90% of them are traumatic anterior dislocations [13, 16]. Affecting predominantly men in their late teens or early 20s, shoulder dislocations commonly occur while playing contact sports, specifically those with high upper-extremity demand like rugby or American football [4].

After dislocation, the shoulder is less stable and more prone to re-dislocation, particularly in younger patients [15]. After a closed reduction, most patients undergone conservative treatment being generally immobilized for 2 to 6 weeks, dependent on patient age, followed by physiotherapy rehabilitation. The typical immobilization protocol involves internal rotation with a sling. There is a trend towards shorter immobilization time [2] and, lately, interest has been focused on alternative immobilization protocols such as immobilization in external rotation of the shoulder [10, 14]. Theoretically, external rotation allows damaged structures to heal better by holding them closer to their anatomic position, therefore diminishing future re-dislocations and instability [10, 12]. Notwithstanding these theoretical advantages, few surgeons choose this alternative [1, 2] probably because of the compliance issues with external rotation bracing [11] and the lower cost and greater availability of internal rotation slings [5].

Although previous Cochrane reviews have addressed the non-surgical management of shoulder dislocation [7, 8],those reviewers [8] deemed the evidence insufficient as only one study (and, in the subsequent update [7], four trials), showed no difference between both immobilization positions at 2-year follow-up. Therefore, it seemed appropriate to update this review as new evidence emerged addressing immobilization position and duration of post-reduction immobilization.

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Upon Closer Inspection

This updated Cochrane review [3] contains six randomized controlled trials and one quasi-randomized controlled trial involving a total 704 participants. Although the authors intended to incorporate trials addressing a variety of questions on the topic of non-surgical management of shoulder dislocations, the available trials compared only internal versus external rotation immobilization protocols, so the Cochrane review necessarily focused on that topic. Some aspects of the interventions differed slightly among the included randomized controlled trials, such as the timing of immobilization and the degree of external rotation and abduction, but despite sensitivity analyses that sought to address these differences, the Cochrane review could draw no firm conclusions about the superiority of one position of immobilization over the other.

While this update included three new randomized trials, there is considerable ongoing research on this topic that might be informative. The authors identified six unpublished, completed trials, as well as five more that are ongoing. When data from these become available, we expect greater clarity on this important topic.

Although this study included six randomized trials (compared with three in the prior Cochrane review [6]), the key finding remained the same: There was no difference with the numbers available between immobilization in external rotation compared to internal rotation with respect to the risk of repeat shoulder dislocation among the 488 patients in the pooled analysis (relative risk [RR] 0.67 [95% CI 0.38 to 1.19]; p = 0.17). Additionally, there was no evidence of a clinically relevant difference in patient-reported outcome measures (PROMs) for shoulder instability. However, the high degree of imprecision makes these results very uncertain. As re-dislocations are relatively infrequent, larger sample sizes are needed to obtain narrower confidence intervals. Furthermore, intervention effects on the resumption of pre-injury activities or sports remain uncertain. Although the young population (mean age: 29 years) and high percentage of men (82%) are typical for the injury, none of the trials specified the prevalence and/or characteristics of concurrent injuries within their samples, which makes the findings even harder to apply in practice.

Of note, Chan and colleagues [5] found that the external rotation group had more difficulties wearing the sling (27 out of 34 [79%]) than the internal rotation group (13 out of 28 [46%]; p = 0.007). Four studies reported adverse events and divided them into two groups: Transient/resolved and important adverse events. From the four studies, a total of nine patients out of 196 had shoulder stiffness in the external rotation group compared to two patients out of 181 who had an axillary rash in the internal rotation group (RR 2.73 [95% CI 0.83 to 9.02]; p = 0.10). These adverse events were considered transient and resolved. The authors found a total of three important adverse events: One out of 134 patients in the external rotation group and two out of 134 patients in the internal rotation group, but the difference was not significant (RR 0.61 [95% CI 0.08 to 4.46]; p = 0.62) [5].

Unfortunately, adverse events reports were done incompletely and ad hoc making it difficult to draw conclusions. Since there is still no conclusive evidence favoring external rotation over internal rotation, it is particularly important that future studies report harms and adverse events as an a priori outcome.

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Take-home Messages

The ideal treatment following closed reduction remains controversial. Immobilization in internal rotation [6] and external rotation [9, 11] have their adherents, but this Cochrane review—which is the most-robust evidence now available—showed no clear advantage to one over the other in terms of efficacy, and it tended to suggest that external rotation may be more difficult for patients to tolerate.

Given that immobilization in external rotation may be less-well tolerated, the existing evidence does not support its routine use. However, the fact that we have identified six unpublished and five ongoing trials gives us some hope that soon we will have a more-definitive answer to this important question. Future research should try to address (1) immobilization duration, (2) immobilization protocol details, (3) timing to safely resume activities, and (4) rehabilitation protocol. In addition, future research also should pay particular attention to adverse effects and include PROMs, measures of validated health-related quality of life, treatment satisfaction, and cost-effectiveness analyses.

In light of current uncertainty, the choice of immobilization position should be driven by patients’ and surgeons’ preferences until more definitive data are available but keeping in mind that adverse events has been seen less frequently with the traditional sling in internal rotation.

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