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Abstract

Objective

To determine the effectiveness of progressive quadriceps strengthening with or without neuromuscular electrical stimulation (NMES) on quadriceps strength, activation, and functional recovery after total knee arthroplasty (TKA), and to compare progressive strengthening with conventional rehabilitation.

Methods

A randomized controlled trial was conducted between July 2000 and November 2005 in an academic outpatient physical therapy clinic. Two hundred patients who had undergone primary, unilateral TKA for knee osteoarthritis were randomized to 1 of 2 interventions 4 weeks after surgery, and 41 patients eligible for enrollment who did not participate in the intervention were tested 12 months after surgery (standard of care group). All randomized patients received 6 weeks of outpatient physical therapy 2 or 3 times per week through 1 of 2 intervention protocols: an exercise group (volitional strength training) or an exercise-NMES group (volitional strength training and NMES). Treatment effects were evaluated by a burst superimposition test to assess quadriceps strength and volitional activation 3 and 12 months postoperatively. The Medical Outcomes Study Short Form 36 and Knee Outcome Survey were completed. Knee range of motion, Timed Up and Go, Stair-Climbing Test, and 6-Minute Walk were also measured.

Results

Strength, activation, and function were similar between the exercise and exercise-NMES groups at 3 and 12 months. The standard of care group was weaker and exhibited worse function at 12 months compared with both treatment groups.

Conclusion

Progressive quadriceps strengthening with or without NMES enhances clinical improvement after TKA, achieving similar short- and long-term functional recovery and approaching the functional level of healthy older adults. Conventional rehabilitation does not yield similar outcomes.