Background and purpose: The discrepancy between symptoms and radiographic severity of knee osteoarthritis (OA) is well described. However, little is known about whether radiographic severity is predictive of the clinical result of nonoperative treatment. We investigated whether radiographic severity and treatment type were associated with improvements in pain after nonoperative treatment of patients with knee OA.
Patients and methods: A 5-year consecutive series of patients deemed not eligible for total knee arthroplasty (TKA) by an experienced orthopedic surgeon was contacted 1-5 years later. Radiographic severity, age, sex, and BMI were registered at the consultation. At follow-up, patients were asked to answer a questionnaire on type of treatment and improvements in pain after treatment.
Results: Of 1,848 patients who were not eligible for TKA, 1,414 (77%) completed the follow-up questionnaire (mean age 66 (24-96) years; 55% women). Radiographic severity was not associated with improvements in pain even after adjusting for treatment type, age, sex, and BMI (p > 0.1). The odds ratio of improvement was higher by a factor of 2 in patients who received physiotherapy or multimodal treatment than in patients who did not.
Interpretation: Radiographic severity was not associated with improvements in pain after nonoperative treatment. Patients who are not eligible for TKA can confidently be referred to nonoperative treatment even if they have severe radiographic OA. The treatment should preferably be multimodal, including physiotherapy, as recommended in Danish and international clinical guidelines.