The objective of this health technology policy analysis was to determine, where, how, and when physiotherapy services are best delivered to optimize functional outcomes for patients after they undergo primary (first-time) total hip replacement or total knee replacement, and to determine the Ontario-specific economic impact of the best delivery strategy. The objectives of the systematic review were as follows:
To determine the effectiveness of inpatient physiotherapy after discharge from an acute care hospital compared with outpatient physiotherapy delivered in either a clinic-based or home-based setting for primary total joint replacement patients
To determine the effectiveness of outpatient physiotherapy delivered by a physiotherapist in either a clinic-based or home-based setting in addition to a home exercise program compared with a home exercise program alone for primary total joint replacement patients
To determine the effectiveness of preoperative exercise for people who are scheduled to receive primary total knee or hip replacement surgery
Total hip replacements and total knee replacements are among the most commonly performed surgical procedures in Ontario. Physiotherapy rehabilitation after first-time total hip or knee replacement surgery is accepted as the standard and essential treatment. The aim is to maximize a person’s functionality and independence and minimize complications such as hip dislocation (for hip replacements), wound infection, deep vein thrombosis, and pulmonary embolism.
The physiotherapy rehabilitation routine has 4 components: therapeutic exercise, transfer training, gait training, and instruction in the activities of daily living. Physiotherapy rehabilitation for people who have had total joint replacement surgery varies in where, how, and when it is delivered. In Ontario, after discharge from an acute care hospital, people who have had a primary total knee or hip replacement may receive inpatient or outpatient physiotherapy. Inpatient physiotherapy is delivered in a rehabilitation hospital or specialized hospital unit. Outpatient physiotherapy is done either in an outpatient clinic (clinic-based) or in the person’s home (home-based). Home-based physiotherapy may include practising an exercise program at home with or without supplemental support from a physiotherapist.
Finally, physiotherapy rehabilitation may be administered at several points after surgery, including immediately postoperatively (within the first 5 days) and in the early recovery period (within the first 3 months) after discharge. There is a growing interest in whether physiotherapy should start before surgery. A variety of practises exist, and evidence regarding the optimal pre- and post-acute course of rehabilitation to obtain the best outcomes is needed.
The Medical Advisory Secretariat used its standard search strategy, which included searching the databases of Ovid MEDLINE, CINHAL, EMBASE, Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, and PEDro from 1995 to 2005. English-language articles including systematic reviews, randomized controlled trials (RCTs), non-RCTs, and studies with a sample size of greater than 10 patients were included. Studies had to include patients undergoing primary total hip or total knee replacement, aged 18 years of age or older, and they had to have investigated one of the following comparisons: inpatient rehabilitation versus outpatient (clinic- or home-based therapy) rehabilitation, land-based post-acute care physiotherapy delivered by a physiotherapist compared with patient self-administered exercise and a land-based exercise program before surgery. The primary outcome was postoperative physical functioning. Secondary outcomes included the patient’s assessment of therapeutic effect (overall improvement), perceived pain intensity, health services utilization, treatment side effects, and adverse events
The quality of the methods of the included studies was assessed using the criteria outlined in the Cochrane Musculoskeletal Injuries Group Quality Assessment Tool. After this, a summary of the biases threatening study validity was determined. Four methodological biases were considered: selection bias, performance bias, attrition bias, and detection bias. A meta-analysis was conducted when adequate data were available from 2 or more studies and where there was no statistical or clinical heterogeneity among studies. The GRADE system was used to summarize the overall quality of evidence.
Summary of Findings
The search yielded 422 citations; of these, 12 were included in the review including 10 primary studies (9 RCTs, 1 non-RCT) and 2 systematic reviews.
The Medical Advisory Secretariat review included 2 primary studies (N = 334) that examined the effectiveness of an inpatient physiotherapy rehabilitation program compared with an outpatient home-based physiotherapy program on functional outcomes after total knee or hip replacement surgery. One study, available only as an abstract, found no difference in functional outcome at 1 year after surgery (TKR or THR) between the treatments. The other study was an observational study that found that patients who are younger than 71 years of age on average, who do not live alone, and who do not have comorbid illnesses recover adequate function with outpatient home-based physiotherapy. However results were only measured up to 3 months after surgery, and the outcome measure they used is not considered the best one for physical functioning.
Three primary studies (N = 360) were reviewed that tested the effectiveness of outpatient home-based or clinic-based physiotherapy in addition to a self-administered home exercise program, compared with a self-administered exercise program only or in addition to using another therapy (phone calls or continuous passive movement), on postoperative physical functioning after primary TKR surgery. Two of the studies reported no difference in change from baseline in flexion range of motion between those patients receiving outpatient or home-based physiotherapy and doing a home exercise program compared with patients who did a home exercise program only with or without continuous passive movement. The other study reported no difference in the Western Ontario and McMaster Osteoarthritis Index (WOMAC) scores between patients receiving clinic-based physiotherapy and practising a home exercise program and those who received monitoring phone calls and did a home exercise program after TKR surgery.
The Medical Advisory Secretariat reviewed two systematic reviews evaluating the effects of preoperative exercise on postoperative physical functioning. One concluded that preoperative exercise is not effective in improving functional recovery or pain after TKR and any effects after THR could not be adequately determined. The other concluded that there was inconclusive evidence to determine the benefits of preoperative exercise on functional recovery after TKR. Because 2 primary studies were added to the published literature since the publication of these systematic reviews the Medical Advisory Secretariat revisited the question of effectiveness of a preoperative exercise program for patients scheduled for TKR ad THR surgery.
The Medical Advisory Secretariat also reviewed 3 primary studies (N = 184) that tested the effectiveness of preoperative exercise beginning 4-6 weeks before surgery on postoperative outcomes after primary TKR surgery. All 3 studies reported negative findings with regard to the effectiveness of preoperative exercise to improve physical functioning after TKR surgery. However, 2 failed to show an effect of the preoperative exercise program before surgery in those patients receiving preoperative exercise. The third study did not measure functional outcome immediately before surgery in the preoperative exercise treatment group; therefore the study’s authors could not document an effect of the preoperative exercise program before surgery. Regarding health services utilization, 2 of the studies did not find significant differences in either the length of the acute care hospital stay or the inpatient rehabilitation care setting between patients treated with a preoperative exercise program and those not treated. The third study did not measure health services utilization.
These results must be interpreted within the limitations and the biases of each study. Negative results do not necessarily support a lack of treatment effect but may be attributed to a type II statistical error.
Finally, the Medical Advisory Secretariat reviewed 2 primary studies (N = 136) that examined the effectiveness of preoperative exercise on postoperative functional outcomes after primary THR surgery. One study did not support the effectiveness of an exercise program beginning 8 weeks before surgery. However, results from the other did support the effectiveness of an exercise program 8 weeks before primary THR surgery on pain and functional outcomes 1 week before and 3 weeks after surgery.
Based on the evidence, the Medical Advisory Secretariat reached the following conclusions with respect to physiotherapy rehabilitation and physical functioning 1 year after primary TKR or THR surgery:
There is high-quality evidence from 1 large RCT to support the use of home-based physiotherapy instead of inpatient physiotherapy after primary THR or TKR surgery.
There is low-to-moderate quality evidence from 1 large RCT to support the conclusion that receiving a monitoring phone call from a physiotherapist and practising home exercises is comparable to receiving clinic-based physiotherapy and practising home exercises for people who have had primary TKR surgery. However, results may not be generalizable to those who have had THR surgery.
There is moderate evidence to suggest that an exercise program beginning 4 to 6 weeks before primary TKR surgery is not effective.
There is moderate evidence to support the effectiveness of an exercise program beginning 8 weeks before surgery to improve physical functioning 3 weeks after THR surgery.