My question for you today is: does surgical treatment for femoroacetabular impingement (FAI) work? I'm facing the decision whether or not to have this surgery, and I want to know what my chances are for a successful operation.

We may find some helpful information to answer this question from a recent systematic review of studies done regarding surgery for femoroacetabular impingement (FAI). The statistical significance of any conclusions from a systematic review is worth noting. That's because such a review combines the results of many smaller studies to give an overall view of the results of treatment like surgery for FAI of the hip.

Impingement refers to some portion of the soft tissue around the hip socket getting pinched or compressed. Femoroacetabular tells us the impingement is occurring where the femur (thigh bone) meets the acetabulum (hip socket). There are several different types of impingement. They differ slightly depending on what gets pinched and where the impingement occurs.

Most studies on this condition are case studies. That's because no one surgeon sees 100s or 1000s of patients with this problem. Case studies are good because surgeons have to start somewhere when trying to see the effects of treatment.

The problem with published case studies is that this is considered a low level of evidence. A surgeon wouldn't want to treat any patient with methods considered "successful" based on low levels of evidence.

Conducting a systematic review like this one allowed the authors to examine the data on 970 different patients (collected from 23 reports of case studies). Now surgeons can see what the latest findings are and evaluate their own practices based on what is statistically significant.

One of the questions specifically addressed in this review is the very same one you raise. Does surgical treatment for femoroacetabular impingement (FAI) work? The answer to this question may depend on how "success" is defined.

If pain relief is the measured outcome, we know that the majority of the 970 patients included did have relief of painful symptoms. A second outcome was improved function. That was also a benefit of surgical repair for femoroacetabular impingement (FAI). Levels of patient satisfaction as an outcome measure were not so high.

For those patients whose pain didn't improve and especially those patients who ended up having a hip replacement, reported patient satisfaction was low. In some studies, the rate of dissatisfaction and/or conversion to hip replacement was as high as 30 per cent.

The obvious next question is: can we predict who will have a poor result? That's a simple question that doesn't have a simple answer yet. One risk factor for worse outcomes with femoroacetabular impingement surgery is advanced joint arthritis at the time of the diagnosis. But there are two problems with relying solely on this factor.

First, not everyone with severe damage has a poor outcome with surgery. Just as many patients with severe damage had good outcomes as those who had a failed treatment. The reasons for those differences remain unknown and will require further study.

Second, even with X-rays and MRIs, it isn't always possible for the surgeon to know the full extent of the damage. Sometimes, it isn't until getting inside the joint that the surgeon can see what's really going on. These tests are still important and the results should be discussed with you by your surgeon when making the final decision about the best treatment choice for you.

Reference: 

Vincent Y. Ng, MD, et al. Efficacy of Surgery for Femoroacetabular Impingement. A Systematic Review. In The American Journal of Sports Medicine. November 2010. Vol. 38. No. 11. Pp. 2337-2345.

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