The clinical impact of preoperative physiotherapy on recovery after joint replacement remains controversial. This systematic review aimed to assess the clinical impact of prehabilitation before joint replacement. The team searched PubMed, Embase and Cochrane CENTRAL up to November 2015 for randomised controlled trials comparing prehabilitation versus no prehabilitation before joint replacement surgery. Postoperative pain and function scores were converted to Western Ontario and McMaster Universities Osteoarthritis Index (WOMAC) pain and function subscales (0-100, high scores indicate worse outcome). Random effects meta-analysis was performed to calculate weighted mean differences (WMD, 95% CI), subgrouped by hip and knee surgery. The outcome measures used were postoperative pain and function scores, time to resume activities of daily living, quality of life, length of hospital stay, total cost, patient satisfaction, postoperative complications, any adverse events and discontinuations. Of 22 studies (1492 patients), 18 had high risk of bias. Prehabilitation slightly reduced pain scores within 4 weeks postoperatively (WMD -6.1 points, 95% CI -10.6 to -1.6 points, on a scale of 0-100), but differences did not remain beyond 4 weeks. Prehabilitation slightly improved WOMAC function score at 6-8 and 12 weeks (WMD -4.0, 95% CI -7.5 to -0.5), and time to climbing stairs (WMD -1.4 days, 95% CI -1.9 to -0.8 days), toilet use (-0.9 days, 95% CI -1.3 to -0.5 days) and chair use (WMD -1.2 days, 95% CI -1.7 to -0.8 days). Effects were similar for knee and hip surgery. Differences were not found for SF-36 scores, length of stay and total cost. Other outcomes of interest were inadequately reported.
Existing evidence suggests that prehabilitation may slightly improve early postoperative pain and function among patients undergoing joint replacement; however, effects remain too small and short-term to be considered clinically-important, and did not affect key outcomes of interest (ie, length of stay, quality of life, costs).