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J Bone Joint Surg Am. 2005 Sep;87 Suppl 1(Pt 2):264-70.

Stiffness after total knee arthroplasty.

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  • 1Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, 2 Silverstein, 3400 Spruce Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104, USA. charles.nelson@uphs.upenn.edu



Stiffness is an uncommon but disabling problem after total knee arthroplasty. The prevalence of stiffness after knee replacement has not been well defined in the literature. In addition, the outcomes of revision surgery for a stiff knee following arthroplasty have not been evaluated in a large series of patients, to our knowledge. The purposes of this study were to define the prevalence of stiffness after primary total knee arthroplasty and to evaluate the efficacy of revision surgery for treatment of the stiffness.


We defined a stiff knee as one having a flexion contracture of 15 degrees and/or <75 degrees of flexion. Two separate groups were evaluated. First, the results of 1000 consecutive primary total knee replacements were reviewed to determine the prevalence of stiffness. Second, the results of fifty-six revisions performed because of stiffness, sometimes associated with pain or component loosening, after primary total knee arthroplasty were evaluated.


The prevalence of stiffness was 1.3%, at an average of thirty-two months postoperatively. The patients with a stiff knee had had significantly less preoperative extension and flexion than did those without a stiff knee (p < 0.0001). There were no significant differences in age, gender, implant design, diagnosis, or the need for lateral release between the patients with and without stiffness. The second cohort, of knees revised because of stiffness, were followed for an average of forty-three months. The mean Knee Society score improved from 38.5 points preoperatively to 86.7 points at the time of follow-up; the mean Knee Society function score, from 40.0 to 58.4 points; and the mean Knee Society pain score, from 15.0 to 46.9 points. The mean flexion contracture decreased from 11.3 degrees to 3.2 degrees , the mean flexion improved from 65.8 degrees to 85.4 degrees , and the mean arc of motion improved from 54.6 degrees to 82.2 degrees . The arc of motion improved in 93% of the knees, and flexion increased in 80%. Extension improved in 63%, and it remained unchanged in 30%.


The prevalence of stiffness in our series of 1000 primary knee arthroplasties was 1.3%. Revision surgery was a satisfactory treatment option for stiffness, as the Knee Society scores improved, the flexion contractures diminished, and 93% of the knees had an increased arc of motion. However, the results suggest that the benefits are modest.

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