The characterisation of unexplained pain after knee replacement

Br J Pain. 2017 Nov;11(4):203-209. doi: 10.1177/2049463717719774. Epub 2017 Jul 31.


Background: The aims of this study were to characterise the pain experienced by patients with chronic pain after knee replacement (KR), in whom no apparent 'orthopaedic' problem could be identified, and to establish how many have pain sensitisation problems (including neuropathic pain).

Methods: A total of 44 patients were prospectively evaluated at a multidisciplinary tertiary referral clinic by an orthopaedic surgeon, pain specialist, rheumatologist and physiotherapist. These patients had been pre-screened by an orthopaedic surgeon to remove cases where there was an obvious cause of pain that could be treated with revision surgery. They were then followed up to find out whether any subsequent interventions had occurred.

Results: The mean time since surgery was 29 months (range: 3-108 months), and 18% were revision KR. Patients were evaluated for symptoms of nociceptive pain, allodynia, pains elsewhere and psychosocial factors. The patients were categorised into nociceptive pain 43% (n = 19), pain sensitisation 25% (n = 11) and mixed pain 32% (n = 14). Mean Visual Analogue Score (VAS) pain scores were 6.7/10 with high scores for both constant (66%) and intermittent (70%) pain elements, and pain caused high levels of interference with life. Fifty percent suffered depression and 25% suffered widespread pains (more than three pains elsewhere in the body). Patients with widespread pains suffered more pain (p = 0.01) and higher rates of both pain sensitisation (p = 0.07) and thermal allodynia (p < 0.04).

Conclusion: Patients after KR can experience severe pain that interferes with their lives, depression and many have pain sensitisation problems rather than any local, nociceptive cause. We advocate screening patients with unexplained pain after KR for pain sensitisation problems, pains at other sites and depression. Appropriate further treatment and multidisciplinary interventions can then be arranged.

Keywords: Pain after total knee replacement; associated with depression; associated with widespread pains; multidisciplinary approach; nociceptive; sensitisation or mixed types.