An estimated 40% of total costs from a total hip arthroplasty (THA) episode are accrued from post-discharge services. With that in mind, Austin et al. embarked on a randomized controlled trial comparing outcomes among two groups of primary THA patients: those who followed a 10-week self-directed home exercise regimen (n=54) and those who received a combination of in-home and outpatient physical therapy (PT) for 10 weeks (n=54). The results were published in the April 19, 2017 edition of The Journal of Bone & Joint Surgery.
At 1 month and 6 to 12 months after surgery, patients in both groups showed significant preoperative-to-postoperative improvements in function as measured by all administered instruments (Harris Hip Score, WOMAC Index, and SF-36 Physical Health Survey). However, there was no difference in any of the measured functional outcomes between the two groups.
In addition, a total of 30 patients (28%) crossed over between groups: 20 (37%) from the formal physical therapy group and 10 (19%) from the home exercise group. The 10 patients who crossed over from home exercise to formal PT were not meeting progress goals; they tended to be older and had worse preoperative function than those in that cohort who did not cross over.
So, while this study provides evidence that unsupervised home exercise can be as effective as a structured rehabilitation program for most patients, the authors say the following patient characteristics might be indications for a referral to formal PT:
- Older age
- Poorer preoperative function
- Severe preoperative gait imbalance
- Postoperative neurological complications
- Expectations for quick return to high-level activity