Three hand surgeons from well-known centers for reconstructive hand surgery presented a lecture on complications following dislocations of the proximal interphalangeal (PIP) joint. The lecture was given at the 2013 annual meeting of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. This article is a written record of that instructional lecture.
The proximal interphalangeal (PIP) joint is the middle joint of the finger. Dislocations of this joint can be very problematic. Every effort is made to prevent complications such as chronic swelling, stiffness, deformity, and loss of finger function. When the volar plate (restraining ligament) of the joint is damaged by the dislocation, redislocation can occur.
Damage to the cup-shaped joint along with injury to the ligaments can result in an unstable joint. The most successful treatment of these injuries involves limited immobilization with a finger splint and early motion of the finger. Keeping the gliding and sliding motion of the joint is very important — even more so than fixing the dislocation.
Conservative (nonoperative) care is advised when the dislocation is considered “stable”. Stability is determined by X-rays based on how much of the joint surface is damaged (fractured). The surgeon also looks at whether or not the joint partially or completely dislocates during motion.
The use of splinting during the early (acute) phase of healing is controversial. A balance is essential between maintaining the joint in a stable position while still allowing motion. These hand surgeons recommended the following:
Surgery is suggested when the joint is unstable, chronically dislocating, and/or if conservative care does not correct the contracture or deformity. The type of surgery performed is surgeon-determined and may include reconstruction of the cup-shaped contour of the joint, pinning the joint to block full extension (and thereby protect healing soft tissue structures), and/or fixation (internal or external) of the volar plate with mini-screws, pins, or wires. The authors provide a detailed discussion of the pros and cons of these treatment options.
Other points of discussion in this lecture include the use of autografting (to treat unstable fracture-dislocations), treatment of chronic dislocations, the use of salvage procedures, silicone implant arthroplasty (joint replacement), and fusion. The goal is always to eliminate pain, stabilize the joint, and improve hand function. With any surgical procedure, there can be complications, which are also presented and discussed.
The hand surgeons concluded by saying that fracture-dislocations of the PIP joint can be complex and challenging. Treatment is not always straightforward. Decisions are made based on the extent of damage, percentage of joint surface that is fractured, and presence of instability. The surgeon must rely on clinical judgment evaluating each and every patient individually.