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© 2020 The British Elbow & Shoulder Society. Background: Upper limb arthroplasty is an increasingly used treatment modality for end-stage joint disease of the shoulder, elbow and wrist. Whilst complications have been reported, the risk of venous thromboembolism has received less attention when compared to the lower limb. Guidance to aid clinical decision-making remains limited. This review aims to ascertain whether venous thromboembolism prophylaxis is beneficial after upper limb major joint replacement surgery. Methods: A systematic review was performed in April 2019, utilising EMBASE, MEDLINE, Cochrane and Google Scholar. All clinical studies reporting venous thromboembolism incidence and risk reduction (after prophylaxis) in upper limb joint replacement were included. Results: Twenty-four observational studies were identified. The reported incidence of venous thromboembolism ranged from 0.2% to 16% (weighted mean 0.68%) and 0.2% to 0.8% (weighted mean 0.49%) in shoulder and elbow arthroplasty, respectively. No records for wrist arthroplasty were found. In the literature, baseline venous thromboembolism risk of patients without an operation is reported as 0.5%. Discussion: There is a lack of good quality evidence regarding the risks and benefits of venous thromboembolism prophylaxis in upper limb major joint replacement surgery. We recommend further research, ideally formal randomised controlled trials to guide recommendations. Although venous thromboembolism is rare in upper limb surgery, surgeons should remain vigilant to this possibility.

Original publication




Journal article


Shoulder and elbow

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