Expectations May Influence Post-Knee Replacement Experiences

DENVER — People with lower expectations of how they would be able to use their knees during work activities after a total knee arthroplasty were more dissatisfied with their knee abilities 6 months after their surgery, according to a study presented at the OARSI 2023 World Congress.

Two out of 10 patients are dissatisfied after total knee arthroplasty, which is increasingly performed in younger and working patients who may have higher demands, presenter Yvonne van Zaanen, a physiotherapist in occupational health and ergonomics and a PhD candidate at Amsterdam University Medical Center, told attendees.

The findings suggest a correlation between patients’ low presurgical expectations of their ability to use their knees and having more difficulty with their knees postoperatively, she said. “We should take better care of working patients with low expectations by managing their preoperative expectations and improving their ability to perform work-related knee-straining activities in rehabilitation,” van Zaanen told attendees.

The researchers conducted a multicenter, prospective cohort study involving seven hospitals. They surveyed 175 employed individuals aged 18-65 years who were scheduled for a total knee arthroplasty and intended to return to work after their surgery. The first survey occurred before the operation, and the follow-up occurred 6 months after the surgery.

Just over half the participants were women (53%), and the average participant age was 59. Respondents had a mean body mass index (BMI) of 29 kg/m2, and had a Knee injury and Osteoarthritis Outcome Score (KOOS) pain score of 42 (on a 0-to-100 scale in which lower scores are worse). About half the respondents (51%) had a job that involved knee-straining activities.

The researchers assessed participants’ ability to perform work-related, knee-straining activities using the Work, Osteoarthritis, or joint-Replacement Questionnaire (WORQ) tool, which considers the following activities: kneeling, crouching, clambering, taking the stairs, walking on rough terrain, working with hands below knee height, standing, lifting or carrying, pushing or pulling, walking on ground level, operating a vehicle, operating foot pedals, and sitting. The 0-to-100 scale rates the difficulty of using knees for each particular activity, with higher scores indicating greater ease and less pain in doing that activity.

Among the 107 patients who expected to be satisfied after their surgery, half (n = 53) were satisfied, compared with 12% (n = 13) who were unsatisfied; the remaining participants (n = 41, 38%) were neither satisfied nor dissatisfied. Among the 24 patients who expected to be dissatisfied after their surgery, one-third (n = 8) were satisfied and 42% (n = 10) were dissatisfied. The remaining 44 patients didn’t expect to be satisfied or dissatisfied before their surgery, and 41% of them were satisfied while 23% were dissatisfied.

The researchers found that patients’ expectation of their satisfaction level going into the surgery was the only preoperative factor to be prognostic for dissatisfaction 6 months after surgery, based on their WORQ score. That is, patients who expected to be dissatisfied before their surgery had approximately five times greater odds of being dissatisfied after their surgery than did those who expected to be satisfied with their ability to do knee-straining activities at work (odds ratio, 5.1; 95% confidence interval, 1.7-15.5). Among those with a WORQ score of 40, indicating a greater expectation of difficulty using their knees postoperatively, 55% were dissatisfied after their surgery, compared with 19% of those with a WORQ score of 85, who expected greater knee ability after their surgery.

The other factors that the researchers examined, which had no effect on WORQ scores, included age, sex, BMI, education, comorbidities, KOOS pain subscale, having a knee-straining job, having needed surgery because of work, or having preoperative sick leave.

One discussion prompted by the presentation focused specifically on individuals’ ability to kneel without much difficulty after their surgery, an activity that’s not typically considered likely, van Zaanen noted. One audience member, Gillian Hawker, MD, MSc, a professor of medicine in the division of rheumatology at the University of Toronto, questioned whether the field should accept that current reality from surgical intervention. Hawker described a cohort she had analyzed in which two-thirds of the participants had expected they would be able to kneel after their surgery, regardless of whether it was related to work or other activities.

“Kneeling is important, not just for work; it’s important for culture and religion and lots of other things,” Hawker said. “How will you help these people to kneel after knee replacement when the surgery isn’t really performed to enable people to do that?” In response, van Zaanen noted it might not be achievable, as the research literature demonstrates, but Hawker suggested that is itself problematic.

“I guess what I’m asking is, why are we settling for that? If it’s important to so many people, and an expectation of so many people, why don’t we technologically improve such that, post arthroplasty, people can kneel?”

Another commenter suggested that the study’s findings may not indicate a need to manage patients’ expectations prior to surgery so much as showing that some patients simply have realistic expectations of what they will and will not be able to do after knee replacement.

“Is it possible that people who had low expectations — those who expected to be dissatisfied afterwards — were appropriately understanding that they were likely to be dissatisfied afterwards, in which case, managing their expectations might do nothing for their dissatisfaction afterwards?” the commenter asked. It is likely necessary to conduct additional research about expectations before surgery and experiences after surgery to address that question, van Zaanen suggested.

van Zaanen and Hawker reported having no relevant financial relationships. The presentation did not note any external funding. The Congress was sponsored by the Osteoarthritis Research Society International.

This story originally appeared on MDedge.com, part of the Medscape Professional Network.

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