Article Text

Is there a causal link between knee loading and knee osteoarthritis progression? A systematic review and meta-analysis of cohort studies and randomised trials
  1. Marius Henriksen1,
  2. Mark W Creaby2,
  3. Hans Lund3,
  4. Carsten Juhl3,4,
  5. Robin Christensen1,3
  1. 1The Parker Institute, Copenhagen University Hospitals Bispebjerg and Frederiksberg, Copenhagen, Denmark
  2. 2School of Exercise Science, Australian Catholic University, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia
  3. 3Faculty of Health Sciences, Institute of Sports Science and Clinical Biomechanics, University of Southern Denmark, Odense, Denmark
  4. 4Department of Rheumatology and Gerontology, Copenhagen University Hospital Gentofte, Copenhagen, Denmark
  1. Correspondence to Dr Robin Christensen; robin.christensen{at}


Objective We performed a systematic review, meta-analysis and assessed the evidence supporting a causal link between knee joint loading during walking and structural knee osteoarthritis (OA) progression.

Design Systematic review, meta-analysis and application of Bradford Hill's considerations on causation.

Data sources We searched MEDLINE, Scopus, AMED, CINAHL and SportsDiscus for prospective cohort studies and randomised controlled trials (RCTs) from 1950 through October 2013.

Study eligibility criteria We selected cohort studies and RCTs in which estimates of knee joint loading during walking were used to predict structural knee OA progression assessed by X-ray or MRI.

Data analyses Meta-analysis was performed to estimate the combined OR for structural disease progression with higher baseline loading. The likelihood of a causal link between knee joint loading and OA progression was assessed from cohort studies using the Bradford Hill guidelines to derive a 0–4 causation score based on four criteria and examined for confirmation in RCTs.

Results Of the 1078 potentially eligible articles, 5 prospective cohort studies were included. The studies included a total of 452 patients relating joint loading to disease progression over 12–72 months. There were very serious limitations associated with the methodological quality of the included studies. The combined OR for disease progression was 1.90 (95% CI 0.85 to 4.25; I2=77%) for each one-unit increment in baseline knee loading. The combined causation score was 0, indicating no causal association between knee loading and knee OA progression. No RCTs were found to confirm or refute the findings from the cohort studies.

Conclusions There is very limited and low-quality evidence to support for a causal link between knee joint loading during walking and structural progression of knee OA.

Trial registration number CRD42012003253


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