What proportion of patients report long-term pain after total hip or knee replacement for osteoarthritis? A systematic review of prospective studies in unselected patients

BMJ Open. 2012 Feb 22;2(1):e000435. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2011-000435. Print 2012.


Background: Total hip or knee replacement is highly successful when judged by prosthesis-related outcomes. However, some people experience long-term pain.

Objectives: To review published studies in representative populations with total hip or knee replacement for the treatment of osteoarthritis reporting proportions of people by pain intensity.

Data sources: MEDLINE and EMBASE databases searched to January 2011 with no language restrictions. Citations of key articles in ISI Web of Science and reference lists were checked.

Study eligibility criteria, participants and interventions: Prospective studies of consecutive, unselected osteoarthritis patients representative of the primary total hip or knee replacement population, with intensities of patient-centred pain measured after 3 months to 5-year follow-up.

Study appraisal and synthesis methods: Two authors screened titles and abstracts. Data extracted by one author were checked independently against original articles by a second. For each study, the authors summarised the proportions of people with different severities of pain in the operated joint.

Results: Searches identified 1308 articles of which 115 reported patient-centred pain outcomes. Fourteen articles describing 17 cohorts (6 with hip and 11 with knee replacement) presented appropriate data on pain intensity. The proportion of people with an unfavourable long-term pain outcome in studies ranged from about 7% to 23% after hip and 10% to 34% after knee replacement. In the best quality studies, an unfavourable pain outcome was reported in 9% or more of patients after hip and about 20% of patients after knee replacement.

Limitations: Other studies reported mean values of pain outcomes. These and routine clinical studies are potential sources of relevant data.

Conclusions and implications of key findings: After hip and knee replacement, a significant proportion of people have painful joints. There is an urgent need to improve general awareness of this possibility and to address determinants of good and bad outcomes.