Evaluation and Management of the Stiff TKA and MUA


Nurse Director
Jun 8, 2007
The North
United Kingdom United Kingdom
Evaluation and Management of the Stiff TKA @ International Congress for Joint Reconstruction
Authors: Adeel Husain, MD; Roman Stedman, BS; and Charles Nelson, MD, are from the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, Adult Reconstruction Section, at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Stiffness following total knee arthroplasty causes pain and diminished function. In this article, the authors review key principles in the work-up and treatment of stiffness after TKA, as well as provide tips and guidelines for dealing with this complication of knee replacement.

Stiffness is an infrequent yet disabling complication following total knee arthroplasty (TKA). Patients who experience stiffness after TKA complain of pain and diminished function.

In two large studies, the prevalence of stiffness after TKA ranged from 1% [1] to 5% [2] at approximately 2.5 years postoperatively. It is important to note that both studies used similar definitions for the term “stiffness.” Arthrofibrosis has been ranked as the fifth leading cause of TKA failure (7%) for several time-points over 15 years of follow-up. [3]

Recently, systematic reviews of the literature have highlighted treatment options and hinted at treatment algorithms for stiffness after TKA. [4,5] However such algorithms have varied due to differing outcome measures, differing definitions of stiffness used as inclusion criteria, and scarcity of Level I and Level II evidence in the literature.

This article reviews key principles in the workup and treatment of stiffness after TKA. It also provides common tips and guidelines for dealing with this complication of knee replacement.

A proposed definition of stiffness is a flexion contracture of ≥15° and/or <75° of flexion.

A 15° knee flexion contracture requires 22% more extensor demand to stand on a flexed knee. [6] This increased demand makes it more difficult for patients to perform activities of daily living, such as walking, standing, and ascending stairs. [7]
Approximately 70° of flexion is required for normal gait [8] and 80° to climb stairs foot over foot. [9]

These studies, along with others, have set guidelines for the definition of stiffness used by many today.

Table 1. Factors Associated with Stiffness Following TKA
TKR factors regarding stiff knee.JPG

Preoperative Considerations
Preoperative or patient-identified risk factors for postoperative stiffness include: [1,2,5,10-12]
  • Preoperative stiffness
  • Younger age
  • Posttraumatic arthritis
  • Multiple prior surgeries
When preoperative range of motion (ROM) is decreased, the surgeon must pay special attention to managing patient expectations before surgery. Extrinsic conditions such as obesity with excessive soft tissue across the joint or ipsilateral hip osteoarthritis can lead to decreased ROM following a successful TKA. Shortened quadriceps or hamstrings may lead to extrinsic limitations to flexion and extension respectively that cannot be addressed by component revision, and only by muscle release or lengthening if appropriate.

In cases of childhood inflammatory arthritis conditions, stiffness may be secondary to muscles that never grew long enough to allow full knee ROM. At least in the setting of hemophiliac arthropathy, there is evidence that knee ROM can increase late, beyond 18 months, with continued physical therapy and stretching of extrinsic muscles. [13]

Patients with these risk factors must be made aware before surgery that they have an increased chance of limited motion postoperatively.

Intraoperative Considerations
Optimal stability and ROM is attained from proper bone removal, component position, and soft tissue balance during the TKA procedure.

Proper bone removal from the distal femur, posterior femur, and proximal tibia ensures that the collateral ligaments are tensioned appropriately. If not enough bone is removed during surgery, overstuffing of the joint can lead to stiffness. In extreme cases, over-tensioning can limit the ability of the soft tissues to accommodate a prosthetic device. On the other hand, over-resection of bone loosens the collateral ligaments and can cause instability.

Suboptimal component positioning (internal rotation of the tibial or femoral components) or sizing can cause ligament imbalance and postoperative stiffness or instability. [14,15] Improper rotation can cause asymmetric flexion: tightness in the direction of rotation and laxity in the opposite direction (Figure 1). These cases of stiffness can be improved after revision surgery.

TKR malaignment.JPG

Figure 1. Differing femoral component positions can lead to stiffness and instability.

A properly positioned femoral component (a, left) will have ligaments appropriately tense both medially and laterally. Suboptimal femoral component position in internal rotation (b, right) causes ligament imbalance. This presents as excess tightness medially and excess laxity laterally which can lead to both stiffness as well as instability.

Whether ROM is affected by the choice of a cruciate-retaining versus a cruciate-sacrificing implant is subject to much debate. However, this choice has not been shown to be related to stiffness following TKA. [16]

Meticulous surgical technique and attention to soft tissue is important in minimizing surgical factors that can cause a stiff TKA, as technical errors can limit flexion or extension (flexion contracture):
  • Improper soft tissue balancing during the initial procedure can limit postoperative ROM.
  • Failure to restore posterior femoral condylar offset and substantial elevation of the joint line can lead to limitations in flexion.
  • Failure to remove posterior osteophytes or to release a tight posterior capsule can lead to limitations in both flexion and extension.
  • Improper balancing of the flexion and extension gaps can limit both flexion and extension.
Closing the arthrotomy in flexion may allow patients to regain motion faster and with less effort than those closed in extension. [17] Pathologically tight soft tissue or skin contractures from prior scars can be excised, and contracted quadriceps muscle should be released to allow improved motion. [2]

Postoperative Considerations
Postoperative factors that lead to stiffness include:
  • Infection
  • Improper pain management
  • Development of pathological states that limit knee motion
Patients who present with early postoperative stiffness should be evaluated for infection with appropriate laboratory tests and imaging, with further workup if necessary.

Once infection is ruled out, poor pain management should be high on the differential diagnosis. Inadequate pain management after TKA ranks as a major source of stiffness. Pain prevents ROM, which leads to ineffective physical therapy (PT). Optimized pain management will allow patients to maximize their efforts during postoperative rehabilitation.

Pathological states can limit knee motion. Complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) may be suspected in patients who present with skin changes (color, hair pattern, temperature), decreased patellar mobility, hyperalgesia, and a lack of other objective findings explaining their limited ROM. In these cases, a diagnostic/therapeutic sympathetic block may aid in pain control.

If stiffness continues with increased follow-up, idiopathic arthrofibrosis may be suspected. In this scenario, excessive scar formation during the healing process can be managed by manipulation under anesthesia (MUA). If, attempts at MUA are unsuccessful shortly after surgery, technical factors, such as suboptimal component sizing or placement, should be considered.


Conservative Modalities
Conservative modalities for stiffness in the early postoperative period include:
  • PT
  • Optimized multimodal pain control
  • Dynamic or static progressive splinting, particularly for extension
Continuous passive motion (CPM) machines have not been shown to improve long-term ROM or clinical outcomes. [18] However CPM plus PT may increase knee flexion more than PT alone 2 weeks after surgery. [19]

Manipulation Under Anesthesia (MUA)
If stiffness persists in the early postoperative period without infection or technical problems, MUA has been shown to reliably improve ROM, especially in flexion. MUA is most appropriate within 2 to 3 months of the index TKA. [20] Beyond 3 months, the risk of iatrogenic fracture increases.

Ranawat et al demonstrated improved results with MUA combined with intraarticular injection of an anesthetic/analgesic cocktail for postsurgical pain control. [21] Pariente and Lombardi showed that use of a continuous epidural infusion after MUA resulted in improved ROM for persistently stiff patients, especially in those with a suspicion of CRPS. [22]

Lysis of Adhesions and Posterior Cruciate Ligament Release
If MUA has not been performed in the 3-month window after TKA, lysis of adhesions (LOA) may be appropriate, as long as infection and technical problems have been ruled out. This can be done either arthroscopically or open, and sometimes in combination with manipulation. [23]

Arthroscopic LOA shows substantial improvements in ROM even when performed 1 year after the index procedure. When comparing MUA and arthroscopic LOA (with or without concurrent MUA), the final ROM is similar. Outcomes are not as successful when performing an open LOA, however. [5]

LOA can be performed in cases of arthrofibrosis and limited ROM after the index TKA and in patients with CRPS unresponsive to conservative measures. LOA is most appropriate in patients who likely would have had good outcomes following MUA but are outside the safe window for MUA. This may be seen in patients with medical complications in an ICU setting where ROM and pain control were not prioritized early.

In properly selected patients with properly positioned components, there may be a role for arthroscopic posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) release. Patients should have a PCL-retaining knee with a tight PCL and increased posterior rollback. Generally, this procedure should be performed within 15 to 18 months of the index TKA. [24]

Revision TKA
Revision TKA is the workhorse for a stiff TKA. Outcomes with complete revision are generally much better than with limited approaches. Although improvements in ROM are modest, appropriately selected patient tend to be more satisfied after revision TKA. [1]

If the source of stiffness is identified, the most reliable treatment in late presentations is revision TKA. Indications include:
  • Inadequate bone resection
  • Malpositioned or oversized components
  • Other technical factors that lead to overstuffing or tightened soft tissues
During a revision procedure, it is important to optimize component size, position, alignment, and rotation. In addition, patella component revision may be indicated if patellar resurfacing has led to increased composite thickness of the patellar component and residual bone.

As with primary TKA, pain control following a revision procedure is essential to allow optimal ROM and function.

Technical Pearls during Surgery [25]
  • Address extrinsic factors (such as tight quads or hamstrings) that can preclude optimal ROM
  • Free and decompress the gutters
  • More difficult exposures risk avulsion of the patellar tendon
    • Have a low threshold for lateral retinacular release or quadriceps snip
  • Restore the joint line to optimize rotation, position, alignment, and flexion/extension balance
  • Release contracted quadriceps off the femur and reestablish tissue planes
  • Avoid an overstuffed patellofemoral joint
  • Assess ROM with the extensor mechanism/patella subluxed and then reduced
    • Reminder: Postoperative ROM will not be greater than intraoperative gravity ROM with a reduced patella after closure of the retinaculum [26]
  • By 6 weeks postoperatively, aggressive PT should be started if the patient cannot flex to 90°.
  • Within the first 3 months, optimization of pain control, appropriate PT, and MUA should be considered for ROM limitations.
  • After 3 months, arthroscopic or open LOA can be attempted to improve ROM, provided no infection or technical problems are present.
  • After 1 year from the index TKA, revision TKA is the procedure of choice. MUA or aggressive PT at this point can lead to devastating complications, such as extensor mechanism disruption.
  • Persistent stiffness beyond these measures necessitates an exhaustive work-up to rule out other etiologies.

  1. Kim J, Nelson CL, Lotke PA. Stiffness after total knee arthroplasty: Prevalence of the complication and outcomes of revision. The Journal of Bone & Joint Surgery 2004;86:1479-1484.
  2. Yercan HS, Sugun TS, Bussiere C, Ait Si Selmi T, Davies A, Neyret P. Stiffness after total knee arthroplasty: prevalence, management and outcomes. The Knee 2006;13:111-7.
  3. Schroer WC, Berend KR, Lombardi AV et al. Why are total knees failing today? Etiology of total knee revision in 2010 and 2011. The Journal of arthroplasty 2013;28:116-119.
  4. Ghani H, Maffulli N, Khanduja V. Management of stiffness following total knee arthroplasty: a systematic review. The Knee 2012;19:751-9.
  5. Fitzsimmons SE, Vazquez EA, Bronson MJ. How to treat the stiff total knee arthroplasty?: a systematic review. Clinical Orthopaedics and Related Research 2010;468:1096-1106.
  6. Perry J, Antonelli D, Ford W. Analysis of knee-joint forces during flexed-knee stance. The Journal of bone and joint surgery American volume 1975;57:961-967.
  7. Bong MR, Di Cesare PE. Stiffness after total knee arthroplasty. Journal of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons 2004;12:164-171.
  8. Jordan L, Olivo J. Stiffness and limitation of motion: prevention and management. Revision total knee arthroplasty Philadelphia: Lippincott-Raven 1999;1999:461-7.461.
  9. Laubenthal K, Smidt GL, Kettelkamp D. A quantitative analysis of knee motion during activities of daily living. Physical therapy 1972;52:34-43.
  10. Gandhi R, de Beer J, Leone J, Petruccelli D, Winemaker M, Adili A. Predictive risk factors for stiff knees in total knee arthroplasty. The Journal of arthroplasty 2006;21:46-52.
  11. Parvizi J, Tarity TD, Steinbeck MJ et al. Management of stiffness following total knee arthroplasty. The Journal of Bone & Joint Surgery 2006;88:175-181.
  12. Vince K. The stiff total knee arthroplasty Causes and cures. Journal of Bone & Joint Surgery, British Volume 2012;94:103-111.
  13. Kamath AF, Horneff JG, Forsyth A, Nikci V, Nelson CL. Total Knee Arthroplasty in Hemophiliacs: Gains in Range of Motion Realized beyond Twelve Months Postoperatively. Clinics in orthopedic surgery 2012;4:121-128.
  14. Bédard M, Vince KG, Redfern J, Collen SR. Internal rotation of the tibial component is frequent in stiff total knee arthroplasty. Clinical Orthopaedics and Related Research 2011;469:2346-2355.
  15. Scuderi GR. The Stiff Total Knee Arthroplasty. The Journal of Arthroplasty 2005;20:23-26.
  16. Chaudhary R, Beaupre LA, Johnston DWC. Knee Range of Motion During the First Two Years After Use of Posterior Cruciate-Stabilizing or Posterior Cruciate-Retaining Total Knee ProsthesesA Randomized Clinical Trial. The Journal of Bone & Joint Surgery 2008;90:2579-2586.
  17. Emerson Jr RH, Ayers C, Head WC, Higgins LL. Surgical closing in primary total knee arthroplasties: flexion versus extension. Clinical orthopaedics and related research 1996;331:74-80.
  18. MacDonald SJ, Bourne RB, Rorabeck CH, McCalden RW, Kramer J, Vaz M. Prospective randomized clinical trial of continuous passive motion after total knee arthroplasty. Clinical orthopaedics and related research 2000;380:30-35.
  19. Brosseau L, Milne S, Wells G et al. Continuous passive motion improves active knee flexion and shortens hospital stay but does not affect other functional outcomes after knee arthroplasty. Journal Bone Joint Surgery Inc. 20 Pickering St, Needham, Ma 02192 USA, 2005.
  20. Bawa HS, Wera GD, Kraay MJ, Marcus RE, Goldberg VM. Predictors of range of motion in patients undergoing manipulation after TKA. Clinical Orthopaedics and Related Research 2013;471:258-263.
  21. Ranawat CS, Ranawat AS, Mehta A. Total knee arthroplasty rehabilitation protocol: what makes the difference? J Arthroplasty 2003;18:27-30.
  22. Pariente GM, Lombardi Jr AV, Berend KR, Mallory TH, Adams JB. Manipulation with prolonged epidural analgesia for treatment of TKA complicated by arthrofibrosis. Surgical technology international 2005;15:221-224.
  23. Jerosch J, Aldawoudy AM. Arthroscopic treatment of patients with moderate arthrofibrosis after total knee replacement. Knee Surgery, Sports Traumatology, Arthroscopy 2007;15:71-77.
  24. Williams III RJ, Westrich GH, Siegel J, Windsor RE. Arthroscopic release of the posterior cruciate ligament for stiff total knee arthroplasty. Clinical orthopaedics and related research 1996;331:185-191.
  25. Nelson CL, Kim J, Lotke PA. Stiffness after total knee arthroplasty. The Journal of Bone & Joint Surgery Essential Surgical Techniques 2005;87:264-270.
  26. Lee DC, Kim DH, Scott RD, Suthers K. Intraoperative flexion against gravity as an indication of ultimate range of motion in individual cases after total knee arthroplasty. The Journal of arthroplasty 1998;13:500-503.

BoneSmart #1 Best Blog

Staff online

  • Pumpkin
    Staff member since March 26, 2015

Forum statistics

Latest member
Recent bookmarks
Top Bottom