Chronic Opioid Use Prior to Total Knee Arthroplasty
Michael G. Zywiel, MD; D. Alex Stroh, BS; Seung Yong Lee, MD; Peter M. Bonutti, MD; Michael A. Mont, MD


Background: Chronic use of opioid medications may lead to dependence or hyperalgesia, both of which might adversely affect perioperative and postoperative pain management, rehabilitation, and clinical outcomes after total knee arthroplasty. The purpose of this study was to evaluate patients who underwent total knee arthroplasty following six or more weeks of chronic opioid use for pain control and to compare them with a matched group who did not use opioids preoperatively.

Methods: Forty-nine knees in patients who had a mean age of fifty-six years (range, thirty-seven to seventy-eight years) and who had regularly used opioid medications for pain control prior to total knee arthroplasty were compared with a group of patients who had not used them. Length of hospitalization, aseptic complications requiring reoperation, requirement for specialized pain management, and clinical outcomes were assessed for both groups.

Results: Knee Society scores were significantly lower in the patients who regularly used opioid medications at the time of final follow-up (mean, three years; range, two to seven years); the opioid group had a mean of 79 points (range, 45 to 100 points) as compared with a mean of 92 points (range, 59 to 100 points) in the non-opioid group. A significantly higher prevalence of complications was seen in the opioid group, with five arthroscopic evaluations and eight revisions for persistent stiffness and/or pain, compared with none in the matched group. Ten patients in the opioid group were referred for outpatient pain management, compared with one patient in the non-opioid group.

Conclusions: Patients who chronically use opioid medications prior to total knee arthroplasty may be at a substantially greater risk for complications and painful prolonged recoveries. Alternative non-opioid pain medications and/or earlier referral to an orthopaedic surgeon prior to habitual opioid use should be considered for patients with painful degenerative disease of the knee.

Level of Evidence: Therapeutic Level III. See Instructions for Authors for a complete description of levels of evidence.


  • Investigation performed at the Rubin Institute for Advanced Orthopedics, Baltimore, Maryland, and the Bonutti Clinic, Effingham, Illinois

  • A commentary by Thomas Parker Vail, MD, is linked to the online version of this article at

  • Disclosure: None of the authors received payments or services, either directly or indirectly (i.e., via his or her institution), from a third party in support of any aspect of this work. One or more of the authors, or his or her institution, has had a financial relationship, in the thirty-six months prior to submission of this work, with an entity in the biomedical arena that could be perceived to influence or have the potential to influence what is written in this work. No author has had any other relationships, or has engaged in any other activities, that could be perceived to influence or have the potential to influence what is written in this work. The complete Disclosures of Potential Conflicts of Interest submitted by authors are always provided with the online version of the article.

Enter your JBJS login information below.
Please note that your username is the email address you provided when you registered.

List of OpenAthens registered sites, including contact details.