What is the evidence to support early supervised exercise therapy after primary total knee replacement? A systematic review and meta-analysis

Larissa Nicole Sattler*, Wayne Anthony Hing, Christopher John Vertullo

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

27 Citations (Scopus)
215 Downloads (Pure)


Background: Total knee replacement (TKR) patients participate in early supervised exercise therapy programs, despite a lack of evidence for such programs or the optimal type, duration or frequency to provide the best clinical outcomes. As hospital stay rates decrease worldwide, the first days after joint replacement surgery are of increasing clinical importance. The purpose of this study was to investigate any reported effects of published early exercise therapy following TKR surgery.

Methods: Databases PubMed, CINAHL, Embase, Cochrane, and Pedro were searched up to August 2018 for trials which investigated an early supervised exercise therapy, commencing within 48 h of surgery. Risk of bias was evaluated using a Modified Downs and Black Checklist and meta-analysis of results was conducted using Review Manager (RevMan). Standardised Mean Differences (SMD) or Mean Differences (MD) and 95% confidence intervals were calculated and combined in meta-analyses.

Results: Four studies (323 patients) that used four different interventions were identified, including Modified Quadriceps Setting, Flexion Splinting, Passive Flexion Ranging and a Drop and Dangle Flexion regime. Patients receiving the Drop and Dangle flexion protocol had superior flexion in the first 2 days after TKR and at discharge, the Flexion Splint patients were discharged earlier and had greater flexion at 6-weeks postoperatively, and the Modified Quadriceps Setting group showed greater hamstring and gluteal muscle strength. Results of the methodological quality assessment showed included studies were of moderate quality. The meta-analysis included 3 of the 4 trials and found no significant differences between groups in maximum knee flexion (MD = 1.34; 95% CI, - 5.55-8.24) or knee society scores (MD = - 1.17; 95% CI, - 4.32-1.98) assessed at 6 weeks post-operatively.

Conclusion: The paucity and heterogeneity of existing studies that examine early supervised exercise therapy following TKR surgery makes it challenging for clinicians to deliver high-quality evidence-based exercise programs in the early postoperative period. Although superior knee flexion range was found across differing regimes, the meta-analysis showed no significant difference in this outcome between groups at 6 weeks. The results of this review show high quality randomized clinical trials are urgently needed to evaluate the impact of early exercise following TKR surgery.
Original languageEnglish
Article number42
JournalBMC Musculoskeletal Disorders
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 29 Jan 2019


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