OrthoBuzz occasionally receives posts from guest bloggers. In response to a recent study in Arthritis Care & Research, the following commentary comes from Jeffrey B. Stambough, MD.
As orthopaedic surgeons, we share a collective objective to help patients improve function while minimizing pain. When patients come to our office for a new clinical visit for knee osteoarthritis (OA), we spend time getting to know them and gathering information about their activities, limitations, and functional goals. We balance this patient-reported information with discrete data points, such as weight, range-of-motion restrictions, and radiographic disease classification. Based on the symptom duration and other factors, most patients are not candidates for a knee replacement at this first visit. However, despite the publication of clinical practice guidelines for the nonoperative management of knee OA in 2008, with an update in 2013, significant variation exists in how orthopaedists treat these patients.
This guideline–practice disconnect is emphasized in findings from a recent study in Arthritis Care & Research that examined nonoperative knee OA management practices during clinic visits between 2007 and 2015. The authors found that the overall prescription of NSAID and opioid medications increased 2- and 3-fold, respectively, over that time, while recommendations for lifestyle interventions, self-directed activity, and physical therapy decreased by about 50%.
To me, the most troubling finding from this study is the sharp increase in narcotic prescriptions, because recent evidence demonstrates that narcotics do not effectively treat arthritis pain. Moreover, for patients who go on to arthroplasty, recent studies have found that preoperative opioid use portends worse postsurgical outcomes in terms of higher revision rates, worse function scores, and decreased knee motion.
The findings from this study also speak to a larger societal issue for doctors and patients alike: the desire for a “quick fix.” Despite the time pressure from increasing EHR documentation burdens, dwindling reimbursements, or lack of local resources, we owe it to our patients to counsel them on lifestyle modifications and self-management strategies to help them stay mobile, lose weight (if necessary), and take charge of their joint health. As orthopaedic surgeons, we must continue to strive to de-emphasize opioid pain medication when treating knee OA patients and support them in a holistic manner to ensure their overall health and the function and longevity of their native knee joint.
Jeffrey B. Stambough, MD is an orthopaedic hip and knee surgeon, an assistant professor of orthopaedic surgery at University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, and a member of the JBJS Social Media Advisory Board.