Ankle osteoarthritis remains a cause of severe pain and disability. Patients are treated nonoperatively if possible, but surgery is often needed for individuals with end-stage disease, wrote Andrew Goldberg, MBBS, of University College London and colleagues in the Annals of Internal Medicine.
“Most patients with ankle arthritis respond to nonoperative treatments, such as weight loss, activity modification, support braces, and analgesia, [but] once the disease has progressed to end-stage osteoarthritis, the main surgical treatments are total ankle re-placement or ankle arthrodesis,” Dr. Goldberg said, in an interview.
In the new study, patients were randomized to receive either a total ankle replacement (TAR) or ankle fusion (AF).
“We showed that, in both treatment groups the clinical scores improved hugely, by more than three times the minimal clinically important difference,” Dr. Goldberg said in an interview.
“Although the ankle replacement arm improved, on average, by more than an extra 4 points over ankle fusion, this was not considered clinically or statistically significant,” he said.
The study is the first randomized trial to show high-quality and robust results, he noted, and findings support data from previous studies.
“Although both TAR and ankle fusion have been shown to be effective, they are very different treatments, with one fusing the bones so that there is no ankle joint movement, and the other replacing the joint with the aim of retaining ankle joint movement. It is difficult for a patient to know which treatment is more suitable for them, with most seeking guidance from their surgeon,” he said.
Generating high-quality evidence
The study, a randomized, multicenter, open-label trial known as TARVA (Total Ankle Replacement Versus Ankle Arthrodesis), aimed to compare the clinical effectiveness of the two existing publicly funded U.K. treatment options, the authors wrote.
Patients were recruited at 17 U.K. centers between March 6, 2015, and Jan. 10, 2019. The study enrolled 303 adults aged 50-85 years with end-stage ankle osteoarthritis. The mean age of the participants was 68 years; 71% were men. A total of 137 TAR patients and 144 ankle fusion patients completed their surgeries with clinical scores available for analysis. Baseline characteristics were mainly similar between the groups.
Blinding was not possible because of the nature of the procedures, but the surgeons who screened the patients were not aware of the randomization allocations, the researchers noted. A total of 33 surgeons participated in the trial, with a median number of seven patients per surgeon during the study period.
For TAR, U.K. surgeons use both two-component, fixed-bearing and three-component, mobile-bearing implants, the authors write. Ankle fusion was done using the surgeon’s usual technique of either arthroscopic-assisted or open ankle fusion.
The primary outcome was the change in the Manchester–Oxford Foot Questionnaire walking/standing (MOXFQ-W/S) domain scores from baseline to 52 weeks after surgery. The MOXFQ-W/S uses a scale of 0-100, with lower scores representing better outcomes. Secondary outcomes included change in the MOXFQ-W/S scores at 26 weeks after surgery, as well as measures of patient quality of life.