Putting your arm in a sling for three weeks is just as good for a displaced fracture of the shoulder as surgery that uses plates or metal screws to join the bones back together again.
The two approaches have been tested by researchers at Aarhus University in Denmark on a group of 88 patients, all aged over 60, who had suffered a displaced shoulder fracture. Half had surgery, and the other half had nothing done to them, other than keeping their arm in a sling.
At the end of three weeks, there was no difference in the two groups: both had healed equally as well, and both continued to improve over the following year.
Describing the results as 'thought-provoking', researcher Inger Mechlenburg said: "Those who underwent surgery don't have better shoulder function or less pain than those who didn't. As there is no difference in the patients' ability to carry out daily chores, their level of pain or quality of life with or without surgery, then treatment with only a sling should be preferred as the patients avoid pain and complications related to the surgery."
She accepts it will be difficult to change clinical practice, especially as it means going from more to less, but it's still a result that healthcare services need to acknowledge.