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Rheumatology (Oxford). 2013 Dec;52(12):2229-37. doi: 10.1093/rheumatology/ket291. Epub 2013 Sep 11.

Unilateral vs bilateral symptomatic knee osteoarthritis: associations between pain intensity and function.

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Department of Physical Therapy, Virginia Commonwealth University, Room B-100, West Hospital, 1200 East Broad Street, Richmond, VA 23298, USA.



The objective of this study was to determine if associations between pain distribution (unilateral vs bilateral) and measures of function (self-report vs performance-based) were influenced by knee pain intensity of the painful knee(s) in persons with moderate to severe symptomatic knee OA.


Data from persons in the Osteoarthritis Initiative (OAI) dataset (n = 852) with symptomatic knee OA were studied. Key dependent variables were the WOMAC physical function, Knee Injury and Osteoarthritis Outcome Score (KOOS) quality of life, the repeated chair stand test and the 20-m walk test. In addition to covariates, the independent variables were the presence of unilateral or bilateral OA involvement (either Kellgren and Lawrence grade 3 or 4 or a grade <3) and pain category (mild, moderate or severe).


WOMAC physical function scores consistently showed the strongest association with pain intensity for persons with unilateral vs bilateral knee pain. For example, in persons with unilateral severe knee pain, WOMAC scores averaged 19.9 (S.D. = 12.0) points while persons with bilateral knee pain with at least one knee rated as severe had WOMAC scores ranging from 25.3 to 28.9, depending on pain severity of the contralateral knee. These differences were statistically significant (P < 0.001) as was the test for trend (P = 0.001). Self-report measures generally showed larger effect sizes than performance-based measures.


Knee pain intensity influences self-report and performance-based tests differently depending on whether knee pain is unilateral or bilateral. WOMAC scores are most strongly associated with pain intensity in persons with unilateral vs bilateral pain while walking tests are least influenced by pain intensity.


association; function; knee; osteoarthritis; pain; performance; quality of life; self-reported function; validity; walking

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