Many Patients with Persistent Pain 1 Year After TKA Report Improvement by 5 to 7 Years

Sellevold, Vibeke Bull RN, MSc1,2; Steindal, Simen A. RN, PhD1,3; Lindberg, Maren Falch RN, PhD4,5; Småstuen, Milada Cvancarova PhD2,6; Aamodt, Arild MD, PhD4; Lerdal, Anners RN, PhD6,7; Dihle, Alfhild RN, PhD2Author Information

doi: 10.1097/CORR.0000000000002183

Clinical Orthopaedics and Related Research: March 21, 2022 – Volume – Issue – 10.1097/CORR.0000000000002183



Knee Replacement Pain after surgery is common. Approximately 20% of patients report pain 12 months after TKA. No studies have investigated patients’ experiences of living with persistent postsurgical pain 5 to 7 years after TKA by combining a qualitative and quantitative methodology.


In a mixed methods study, we explored patients’ experiences of living with persistent pain up to 7 years after primary TKA. We asked: In a subgroup analysis of patients who reported persistent pain 1 year after TKA surgery, how do patients live with persistent pain at the 5- to 7-year postoperative timepoint?


This follow-up study was part of a longitudinal study of pain, symptoms, and health-related quality of life in patients who underwent TKA for osteoarthritis. The present study targeted a subgroup of patients (22% [45 of 202]) identified in the longitudinal study who reported no improvement in pain interference with walking at 12 months after surgery. Inclusion criteria were: All 31 patients in this subgroup who attended their 5-year follow-up at the hospital and lived within a 2-hour drive from the hospital. Eight patients declined or were unable to participate due to illness or death. Hence, the final sample consisted of 23 patients (13 women and 10 men). The participants’ mean age at surgery was 66 ± 10 years. There were no differences in sociodemographic baseline data between the 23 included and the 22 excluded participants. A mixed-methods approach was employed, in which the quantitative data were followed up and investigated with qualitative interviews. Instruments used were the Brief Pain Inventory preoperatively, 12 months, and 5 years after surgery, as well as a semistructured interview guide. The individual interviews were conducted at one-time point 5 to 7 years post-surgery to capture how pain was experienced at that timepoint. The interviews were audio-recorded, transcribed, and analyzed using qualitative content analysis. Meaning units were identified, condensed, and sorted into subthemes that were interpreted and abstracted into themes, guided by the research question. With a small sample, the quantitative analysis focused on descriptive statistics and nonparametric statistics when comparing demographics of included and non-included patients. In addition, two multivariate mixed models for repeated measures were employed to estimate within patient and between patients’ variations as well as to assess the effect of time on the pain outcomes.


Pain with walking decreased from 12 months to 5 years postoperatively (estimated mean scores 7 versus 4, difference of means -3 [95% CI -5 to -2]; p < 0.001). Pain with daily activity decreased from 12 months to 5 years postoperatively (estimated mean score 6 versus 3, difference of means -3 [95% CI -4 to -1]; p < 0.001). Pain intensity (average pain) decreased from 12 months to 5 years postoperatively (estimated mean score 5 versus 4, difference of means -1 [95% CI -3 to 0]; p = 0.03). The results are presented as point estimates rounded up to whole numbers. The qualitative data analysis yielded three themes: persistent limitations after TKA, regained wellness over time, and complexity in physical challenges. Intermittent pain with certain movements resulted in limitations with some activities in everyday life and seemed to persist beyond 5 years. Multiple painful body sites and presence of comorbidities seemed to interfere with regained wellness over time.


In this subgroup of patients experiencing postsurgical persistent pain 12 months after primary TKA, persistent postsurgical pain still limited certain activities for the participants, although pain seemed to be less influential in their everyday lives after 5 years to 7 years. Clinicians may use these findings to inform and guide patients with delayed improvements in pain into more realistic expectations for recovery, rehabilitation, and strategies for coping with pain, and impaired function. However, it is imperative to rule out other reasons for pain in patients reporting pain 12 months and longer after surgery and to be attentive of possible changes in pain over time.

Level of Evidence 

Level III, therapeutic study.