Outcomes Evaluation of the Athletic Elbow

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The high-level athletic population poses difficulty when evaluating outcomes in orthopedic surgery, given generally good overall health and high function at baseline. Subtle differences in performance following injury or orthopedic surgery are hard to detect in high-performance athletes using standard outcome metrics; however, attaining these subtle improvements after injury or surgery are key to an athletes’ livelihood. Outcome measures serve as the cornerstone for critical evaluation of clinical outcomes following orthopedic surgery or injury. In the age of “evidence-based medicine” and “pay-for-performance” accountability for surgical intervention, understanding clinically relevant outcome measures is essential for careful review of the published literature, as well as one’s own critical review of surgical performance. The purpose of this manuscript is to evaluate clinical outcome measures in the context of the athletic elbow. An emphasis will be placed on evaluation of the 5 most clinically relevant outcome measures for sports-related elbow outcomes: (1) American Shoulder and Elbow Committee; (2) Mayo Elbow Performance Index; (3) Andrews-Timmerman [and its precursor the (4) Andrews-Carson]; and (5) Kerlan-Jobe Orthopaedic Clinic overhead athlete score. A final outcome measure that will be analyzed is “return to play” statistics, which has been published in various studies of athletes’ recovery from elbow surgery, as well as, the outcomes metric known as the “Conway-Jobe scale.” Although there is no perfect outcomes score for the athletic elbow, the Kerlan-Jobe Orthopaedic Clinic score is the only outcomes tool developed and validated for outcomes for elbow injuries in the overhead athlete, as compared with the Andrew-Timmerman and Conway-Jobe metrics, which were not validated outcome measures for the elbow in this patient population. Despite the Disabilities of Arm, Shoulder, Hand (DASH) (and DASH—Sport module) being validated in the general population, this upper extremity scale is not specific for elbow function.

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