It’s hard to contemplate “conservative treatment” in the case of a revised total knee arthroplasty (rTKA) with extensive instrumentation that needs a reoperation due to periprosthetic joint infection (PJI), because all the treatment options in that scenario are pretty complex. In the January 6, 2021 issue of JBJS, Barry et al. report on a retrospective review of 87 revisions of extensively instrumented rTKAs that found that irrigation and debridement (I&D) with chronic antibiotic suppression was as effective as 2-stage exchange in preventing another reoperation for infection—and more effective in terms of maintaining knee function.
The average follow-up of the cases studied was 3.2 years, and the authors carefully defined “extensive instrumentation.” Among the 56 patients who were managed with I&D and suppression and the 31 who were managed with the initiation of 2-stage exchange (average age in both groups approximately 67 years), no significant differences were found in the rates of reoperation for infection or mortality. However, 9 of the 31 patients (29%) in the 2-stage group never underwent the second-stage reimplantation. Among those 9, 3 died prior to reimplantation and 2 underwent amputation due to failure of infection control.
Moreover, at the time of the latest follow-up, a significantly higher percentage of patients in the I&D group were ambulatory (76.8% vs 54.8% in the 2-stage group) and were able to functionally bend their knee (85.7% vs 45.2% in the 2-stage group). The authors surmise that these 2 findings are related to the soft-tissue damage and bone loss that typically occur during stage-1 removal of rTKA components.
Barry et al. conclude that in similar situations “deviating from the so-called gold standard of 2-stage exchange and accepting the modest results of I&D may be in the best interest of the patient,” as long as there are no loose implants in the existing construct. But the “sobering” mortality rates in the study (39.3% in the I&D group and 38.7% in the 2-stage group) remind us that this clinical scenario is extremely challenging for patients and surgeons, no matter which option is selected.
Click here to view an “Author Insights” video about this study with co-author Jeffrey Barry, MD.