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Home Exercise vs. Outpatient Physical Therapy Following Total Knee Arthroplasty

at-home-exerciseDr. Jeff Stickney, a Kirkland orthopedic surgeon, can help you determine whether outpatient physical therapy or home exercise is better suited for your recovery following total knee arthroplasty. He specializes in orthopedic surgeries and health care including total knee replacement, joint replacement, sports medicine, and more. Contact doctor Stickney’s office today to learn more.

Outpatient physical therapy (OPT) is the practice of visiting a healthcare facility such as a clinic or office to perform exercises to treat musculoskeletal problems. This strategic physical activity with the guidance of a physical therapist is a common means of both injury prevention and recovery from sports injuries, because it helps patients address joint pain and regain range of motion. While OPT has a long history as a fundamental part of proper treatment plans for recovery and maintenance following total knee arthroplasty (TKA), recent studies have questioned the need for OPT following total knee replacement surgery.

A new study, “Home Exercises vs. Outpatient Physical Therapy After Total Knee Arthroplasty: Value and Outcomes Following a Protocol Change”, explored the “health safety, efficacy, and home economics of routine home exercises following TKA compared with OPT immediately afterward”. It compared 251 patients who were prescribed OPT following TKA, and 269 who followed a home exercise program instead after their operations. Ultimately the study found that patients who practice home-directed exercise programs in place of formal OPT have seen comparable outcomes, and can even experience significantly reduced costs. They concluded that while some patients required OPT following their home exercise program, the majority did not.

As the study above highlights, the use of home-healthcare following TKA is increasing. Many other publications have reported the same, claiming that supervised rehab such as OPT may not be necessary for optimal recovery following TKA. However, another recent study explored the association between physical therapy (PT) and functional improvements for patients in home settings. This study also explored factors related to PT utilization, meaning it identified the reasons patients did or did not use their home healthcare.

The study found that lower home-healthcare utilization was correlated with worse recovery. Participation in home-healthcare was generally lower for patients who had the help of physical therapists from rural agencies that came to their home. Medical complexity – such as depressive symptoms or dyspnea – factored into the patients’ levels of participation too.

Comparing the results of both studies, we can conclude that home exercise following TKA is effective, however it’s important that patients actually follow through on utilizing the home practice, performing the necessary amount for an optimal recovery. We can also see that those with medical complexities may need additional monitoring to verify that they perform the necessary amount of home PT sessions to achieve a complete recovery.


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