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Surgical Management of the Infected Sternoclavicular Joint

      Pathologic abnormality of the sternoclavicular joint (SCJ) is rare. The ideal management of patients presenting with complaints of this region frequently requires a tailored approach. As well, the SCJ may be managed by thoracic or orthopedic surgeons, further diluting general surgeons' exposure to this pathologic abnormality. Differentiating between SCJ osteoarthritis vs osteomyelitis may at times be challenging; however, as the process continues, the cause will usually declare itself.
      Those with osteoarthritis may benefit from local steroid injection to ameliorate the inflammation and subsequent pain associated with this process (Fig. 1). For those who fail conservative treatment, surgical excision of the joint is curative in this noninfectious process.
      Figure thumbnail gr1
      Figure 1CT slice through SCJ with inflammatory changes (arrow) surrounding the right SCJ, typical of osteoarthritis.
      SCJ septic arthritis is a rare clinical entity, accounting for only 1% of cases of septic arthritis in the general population
      • Ross J.J.
      • Shamsuddin H.
      Sternoclavicular septic arthritis: Review of 180 cases.
      (Fig. 2). It can, however, result in life-threatening complications if not treated adequately. Although mild cases may respond to antibiotics and surgical debridement, more serious cases require SCJ joint resection. Other pathologic abnormalities of the SCJ, including refractory arthritis, may require this approach as well.
      Figure thumbnail gr2
      Figure 2Selective slices from CT image in a patient with sternoclavicular osteoarthritis of the right SCJ. Destruction of the joint (arrows) and head of the first rib can be visualized.

      Clinical Features and Diagnosis

      SCJ septic arthritis most commonly affects adults, although cases have been reported in children. The diagnosis may be challenging due to vague presenting symptoms or lack of clinical signs. Symptoms on presentation include swelling, pain, and/or erythema over the SCJ, with a variable presence of fever. Source of the seeding organism includes central venous catheters, trauma, distant infection, skin excoriations, and intravenous drug use. Associated comorbidities include diabetes and immunosuppression. A minority of cases have no predisposing factors. Cases may be complicated by the development of clavicular osteomyelitis, rib osteomyelitis, mediastinitis, mediastinal or lung abscess, or systemic sepsis.
      • Chun J.M.
      • Kim J.S.
      • Jung H.J.
      • et al.
      Resection arthroplasty for septic arthritis of the sternoclavicular joint.
      • Eckhouse S.R.
      • Person T.D.
      • Reed C.E.
      • et al.
      Sternoclavicular joint infection necessitating through skin and lung parenchyma.
      The diagnosis of SCJ septic arthritis is confirmed by computed tomography (CT) scan or magnetic resonance imaging. Culture isolates are typically monoclonal with Staphylococcus aureus predominating; other causative organisms include Pseudomonas, group G streptococcus, Proteus, and Propionibacterium.
      • Ross J.J.
      • Shamsuddin H.
      Sternoclavicular septic arthritis: Review of 180 cases.
      • Song H.K.
      • Guy T.S.
      • Kaiser L.R.
      • et al.
      Current presentation and optimal surgical management of sternoclavicular joint infections.

      Treatment

      In addition to appropriate antibiotics, most patients with SCJ septic arthritis require operative management. For patients with infection confined to the SCJ capsule, incision and drainage with debridement may suffice.
      • Nusselt T.
      • Klinger H.M.
      • Freche S.
      • et al.
      Surgical management of sternoclavicular septic arthritis.
      • Puri V.
      • Meyers B.F.
      • Kreisel D.
      • et al.
      Sternoclavicular joint infection: A comparison of two surgical approaches.
      Some reports suggest that there may be a high incidence of reinfection after this approach.
      • Song H.K.
      • Guy T.S.
      • Kaiser L.R.
      • et al.
      Current presentation and optimal surgical management of sternoclavicular joint infections.
      Resection of the SCJ, including the anterior costal cartilages of rib 1 and sometimes rib 2, with debridement, irrigation, and muscle flap reconstruction is often indicated for patients with more extensive infection and tissue destruction.
      • Nusselt T.
      • Klinger H.M.
      • Freche S.
      • et al.
      Surgical management of sternoclavicular septic arthritis.
      Those who defer medical treatment may progress to extensive destruction of the joint, mediastinitis, and systemic sepsis.

      Operative Technique for SCJ Resection

      Figure thumbnail gr3
      Figure 3The patient is positioned in a semi-Fowler position, arms tucked, with a roll of sheets or other support behind the shoulders. The skin is prepped from the chin to the abdomen.
      Figure thumbnail gr4
      Figure 4A curvilinear or “hockey-stick”-shaped incision is made over the affected SCJ, starting lateral to the head of the clavicle, coursing toward the manubrium and turning downward. The incision may be modified depending on the exposure required for the extent of resection as well as planned pectoralis flap reconstruction. The subcutaneous tissue and platysma are divided, exposing the head of the clavicle and body of the manubrium.
      Figure thumbnail gr5
      Figure 5The origins of the sternocleidomastoid and pectoralis major muscles are divided from the medial clavicle and manubrium with cautery. Bone and muscle are further debrided as necessary to return to healthy tissue. SCM = sternocleidomastoid muscle; m = muscle.
      Figure thumbnail gr6
      Figure 6The plane behind the SCJ is developed using finger dissection to ensure that critical structures are freed.
      Figure thumbnail gr7
      Figure 7A malleable retractor is placed to protect the underlying vascular structures. An oscillating saw is used to divide the clavicle lateral to the inflammatory process. The osteotomy is performed obliquely, maintaining the posterior costoclavicular ligament when possible.
      Figure thumbnail gr8
      Figure 8The manubrium can be divided with an oscillating saw, sternal saw, or a Lebske knife. The costal margins of affected ribs are divided. The resected inflammatory mass is removed and opened on the back table, and specimens are sent for culture. We usually limit our resection of the ribs and more commonly use a variety of rongeurs to divide the first rib and debride the manubrium. It is here where the margins of resection will be dictated by the extent of infection, ranging from removal of the head of the clavicle to include the first and sometimes second ribs with mediastinal debridement. Once the bony tissues are completely debrided, a large rasp is used to smooth the surface of the bony prominences. Pulse irrigation can be used for additional soft tissue debridement.
      Figure thumbnail gr9
      Figure 9Once all infected tissue is removed, a flap of skin and subcutaneous tissue is elevated over the medial one-third of the pectoralis major muscle on its anterior surface, following it toward the insertion. The posterior border of the pectoralis is lifted off the anterior chest wall and the medial intercostal perforators are divided. One must be careful to avoid injury to the supplying branch of the thoracoacromial artery. Depending on the needs of each individual patient, the entire pectoralis can be used as an advancement flap. However, most commonly the superior third is split from the remainder of the muscle and used to provide healthy vascularized tissue in a limited bed of resection.
      Figure thumbnail gr10
      Figure 10The muscle flap is advanced into the defect and secured with interrupted absorbable suture to the sternocleidomastoid muscle. Although a drill may be used to secure the muscle to the bone, we typically will advance the muscle and roll the medial edge of the flap into the bony defect. We then tack the fascial edge on the anterior aspect of the muscle to the subcutaneous fascia above the manubrium, securing it into position. On the superior aspect of the defect, the muscle is tacked to the edges of the sternocleidomastoid muscle. (In cases where there is a question of the extent of debridement and tissue viability, a closed wound drainage system may be used as a temporary measure and the patient brought back to the operating room for a “second-look” procedure.) The wound is irrigated and suction drainage catheters are placed along the dissection planes of the muscle flap. The subcutaneous tissue and skin are closed in layers over the drains. SCM = sternocleidomastoid muscle.

      Postoperative Care

      An upright chest radiograph should be obtained in the postoperative recovery area. Antibiotics should be continued for 14 days postoperatively and tailored based on culture results.
      • Nusselt T.
      • Klinger H.M.
      • Freche S.
      • et al.
      Surgical management of sternoclavicular septic arthritis.
      Closed suction drains should remain in place until drainage is <30 mL per day. Adequate pain control is essential and consists of oral and intravenous narcotics and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. Physical therapy should begin on postoperative day 1 and should focus on shoulder range-of-motion exercises.

      Outcomes

      Local outcomes are excellent in most case series, with most patients experiencing control of infection and excellent functional outcomes. There is minimal functional disability in relation to the pectoralis advancement flap. We prefer single-staged procedures when possible to limit the number of interventions and to hasten recovery. Adverse events include persistent infection requiring further operative management and sequelae of systemic sepsis, although this is extremely unusual.

      References

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        • Shamsuddin H.
        Sternoclavicular septic arthritis: Review of 180 cases.
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        • Kim J.S.
        • Jung H.J.
        • et al.
        Resection arthroplasty for septic arthritis of the sternoclavicular joint.
        J Shoulder Elbow Surg. 2012; 21: 361-366
        • Eckhouse S.R.
        • Person T.D.
        • Reed C.E.
        • et al.
        Sternoclavicular joint infection necessitating through skin and lung parenchyma.
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        • Guy T.S.
        • Kaiser L.R.
        • et al.
        Current presentation and optimal surgical management of sternoclavicular joint infections.
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        • et al.
        Surgical management of sternoclavicular septic arthritis.
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        • et al.
        Sternoclavicular joint infection: A comparison of two surgical approaches.
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