Causes of stiffness after total knee arthroplasty: Causes of stiffness after total knee arthroplasty: a systematic review

Stefano Zaffagnini, Stefano Di Paolo, Amit Meena, Domenico Alesi, Raffaele Zinno, Giuseppe Barone, Nicola Pizza, Laura Bragonzoni

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


BACKGROUND: Knee stiffness after total knee arthroplasty (TKA) often leads to pain and discomfort, failing to meet patients' expectations on the surgical procedure. Despite the growing debate on the topic, a comprehensive literature analysis of stiffness causes has never been conducted. Thus, the purpose of the present study was to systematically review the literature regarding the main causes of stiffness after TKA.

METHODS: Pubmed Central, Scopus, and EMBASE databases were systematically reviewed according to the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-analysis (PRISMA) guidelines for studies on stiffness and pain or discomfort after TKA through November 2020. Overall, 25 articles matched the selection criteria and were included in the study. Clinical relevance and strength of evidence of the included studies were graded using the risk of bias and the methodological index for non-randomized studies quality assessment tools.

RESULTS: The main causes of pain and discomfort due to stiffness were surgery-related issues, i.e., component malpositioning and over-voluming, implant loosening, psychological distress, and obesity, which could be considered "modifiable" factors, and expression of profibrotic markers, high material hypersensitivity-related cytokines level, male gender, previous contralateral TKA, and high pre-operative pain, which could be considered "non-modifiable" factors.

CONCLUSION: The use of alternative technologies such as surgical robots, anatomy-based devices, and more inert and less stiff component materials could help in reducing stiffness caused by both modifiable and even some non-modifiable factors. Furthermore, early diagnostic detection of stiffness onset could consistently support surgeons in patient-specific decision-making.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-17
Number of pages17
JournalInternational Orthopaedics
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - Apr 6 2021


  • Pain
  • Stiffness
  • Total knee arthroplasty

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