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Open Access Research

Women with knee osteoarthritis have more pain and poorer function than men, but similar physical activity prior to total knee replacement

Shalome M Tonelli1, Barbara A Rakel1*, Nicholas A Cooper2, Whitney L Angstom1 and Kathleen A Sluka2

Author Affiliations

1 College of Nursing, University of Iowa, Iowa City, IA, USA

2 Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation Science Graduate Program, University of Iowa, Iowa City, IA, USA

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Biology of Sex Differences 2011, 2:12  doi:10.1186/2042-6410-2-12

Published: 10 November 2011

Abstract

Background

Osteoarthritis of the knee is a major clinical problem affecting a greater proportion of women than men. Women generally report higher pain intensity at rest and greater perceived functional deficits than men. Women also perform worse than men on function measures such as the 6-minute walk and timed up and go tests. Differences in pain sensitivity, pain during function, psychosocial variables, and physical activity levels are unclear. Further the ability of various biopsychosocial variables to explain physical activity, function and pain is unknown.

Methods

This study examined differences in pain, pain sensitivity, function, psychosocial variables, and physical activity between women and men with knee osteoarthritis (N = 208) immediately prior to total knee arthroplasty. We assessed: (1) pain using self-report measures and a numerical rating scale at rest and during functional tasks, (2) pain sensitivity using quantitative sensory measures, (3) function with self-report measures and specific function tasks (timed walk, maximal active flexion and extension), (4) psychosocial measures (depression, anxiety, catastrophizing, and social support), and (5) physical activity using accelerometry. The ability of these mixed variables to explain physical activity, function and pain was assessed using regression analysis.

Results

Our findings showed significant differences on pain intensity, pain sensitivity, and function tasks, but not on psychosocial measures or physical activity. Women had significantly worse pain and more impaired function than men. Their levels of depression, anxiety, pain catastrophizing, social support, and physical activity, however, did not differ significantly. Factors explaining differences in (1) pain during movement (during gait speed test) were pain at rest, knee extension, state anxiety, and pressure pain threshold; (2) function (gait speed test) were sex, age, knee extension, knee flexion opioid medications, pain duration, pain catastrophizing, body mass index (BMI), and heat pain threshold; and (3) physical activity (average metabolic equivalent tasks (METS)/day) were BMI, age, Short-Form 36 (SF-36) Physical Function, Kellgren-Lawrence osteoarthritis grade, depression, and Knee Injury and Osteoarthritis Outcome Score (KOOS) pain subscale.

Conclusions

Women continue to be as physically active as men prior to total knee replacement even though they have significantly more pain, greater pain sensitivity, poorer perceived function, and more impairment on specific functional tasks.