Shoulder fracture treatment: surgery vs sling 

Shoulder fractures can be particularly painful, limiting movement within the arm. Depending upon the severity of the fracture, surgery tends to be the most common shoulder fracture treatment option. However, could wearing a sling be just as effective?

Here, we’ll look at surgery for shoulder fractures versus wearing a sling. 

Study reveals slings just as effective at treating fractures

A recent study carried out by the Aarhus University in Denmark, has revealed that slings are just as effective at healing shoulder fractures as surgery. Together with departments from Sweden, Finland and Estonia, the researchers studied 88 patients with shoulder fractures over the age of 60. 

The patients were followed for two years, with half receiving surgical treatment and the other half given a sling during recovery. The results showed no difference in improvement between the sling and the surgical groups. The patients who underwent shoulder surgery didn’t experience any less pain or improvement in movement than those who wore a sling. 

This shows that surgical treatment is unnecessary in the case of bone displacement fractures. As it doesn’t provide any improvements compared to wearing a sling, the study highlights that surgery shouldn’t be the first course of action when treating fractures.

When might shoulder surgery be needed?

While the majority of shoulder fractures could heal just as well in a sling, there are exceptions where surgery may be required. 

If the rotator cuff is damaged during the trauma to the shoulder, surgery may be the best option. This is because rotator cuff tears, in particular, don’t tend to heal by themselves. It does depend upon the severity of the tear, but usually, patients do require surgery to fix it.

Each shoulder fracture case should be looked at independently to assess whether or not surgery is required.

Will the results change the clinical shoulder fracture treatment approach?

The researchers behind the latest study are hoping the results will alter clinical treatment approach. It clearly shows that surgery doesn’t improve the outcome compared to wearing a sling. 

As with any surgery, shoulder surgery for treating fractures comes with a number of risks and complications. It also requires a sometimes-lengthy recovery process. So, if the same results could be experienced by the patient wearing a sling, it would eliminate these risks and be much better for the patient’s wellbeing.

This was a fairly small-scale study. Therefore, more in-depth, larger studies may be required to fully change the opinions of surgeons. It’s also important to note that the patients in the study didn’t have damage to the rotator cuff. So, while wearing a sling may be just as effective as surgery in shoulder fractures, if there are any accompanying injuries, surgery may be preferential.

Those who do suspect they have a shoulder fracture, should seek a diagnosis from a shoulder specialist. They will be able to determine the severity of the injury and whether or not surgery will be required. This latest study does prove useful for shoulder specialists, enabling them to make better shoulder fracture treatment decisions for bone displacement fractures.