Background: Open irrigation and débridement is the standard of treatment for septic arthritis of the wrist. Although isolated cases of arthroscopic irrigation and débridement have been reported, a comparison of arthroscopic and open techniques has not been performed, to our knowledge. The purpose of this study was to compare the two methods of management.
Methods: A retrospective comparison of patients with septic arthritis of the wrist initially treated, over an eleven-year period, with open or arthroscopic irrigation and débridement was undertaken at a single institution. The clinical presentation, laboratory and microbiological findings, hospital course, complications, and outcomes were compared between the two groups.
Results: Between 1997 and 2007, thirty-six patients with septic arthritis involving a total of forty wrists were identified. Nineteen wrists (seventeen patients) were initially treated with open irrigation and débridement, and twenty-one wrists (nineteen patients) were initially treated arthroscopically. Eleven wrists in the open-treatment cohort required repeat irrigation and débridement, and eight wrists in the arthroscopy cohort required a repeat procedure. If a repeat irrigation and débridement was required, it was performed in an open fashion in all but two cases. When the comparison included all of the patients in the series, no difference between the two cohorts was found with regard to the number of irrigation and débridement procedures required or the length of the hospital stay. However, when the comparison was limited to the patients with isolated septic arthritis of the wrist, it was found that only one of seven wrists in the open-treatment cohort but all eight wrists in the arthroscopy cohort had been successfully managed with a single irrigation and débridement procedure (p = 0.001). No patient in whom isolated septic arthritis of the wrist had been treated with arthroscopic irrigation and débridement required a second operation. The patients in whom isolated septic arthritis of the wrist was treated with the open method stayed in the hospital for an average of sixteen days compared with a six-day stay for those in whom isolated septic arthritis of the wrist was treated with the arthroscopic method (p = 0.04). The ninety-day perioperative mortality rate in the series was substantial (18% [three patients] in the open-treatment cohort and 21% [four patients] in the arthroscopy cohort).
Conclusions: Arthroscopic irrigation and débridement is an effective treatment for patients with isolated septic arthritis of the wrist; these patients had fewer operations and a shorter hospital stay than did patients who had received open treatment. However, these benefits were not seen in patients with multiple sites of infection.
Level of Evidence: Therapeutic Level III. See Instructions to Authors for a complete description of levels of evidence.