Poverty Influences the Effects of Race and Education on Pain After Knee Replacement Surgery

New York, NY—November 11, 2015

Non-white race and lack of education are known risk factors for pain and poorer function after knee replacement surgery. What isn’t clear is how a community’s poverty level affects the outcomes of having a joint replaced. Findings from a new study conducted by researchers from Hospital for Special Surgery (HSS) suggest that lower socioeconomic status at the community level significantly increases the risk of pain and poor function following a knee replacement. These findings could allow clinicians to more effectively target patients at high risk for poor outcomes and provide support and counseling before their patients undergo the procedure.

Past research has shown that African Americans are less likely to undergo joint replacement surgery compared with whites, despite equal rates of osteoarthritis in both races. Moreover, when blacks do present for surgery, they tend to be in worse health, often having more severe arthritis, more pain, and less functionality. The new work set out to assess how race, education and poverty at the community level may contribute to this disparity.

The researchers – led by Susan M. Goodman, MD, an Associate Attending Physician at HSS and an Associated Professor of Medicine at Weill Cornell Medical School -- included 4225 subjects from a single hospital patient registry, 194 of whom were black. Based on past findings that socioeconomic status correlates with many potential health problems, Goodman and her colleagues linked the addresses of the study patients to census tract data that included the percent of those in the patients’ neighborhoods below the poverty level.

They found that in neighborhoods in which only 10% of the population is below the poverty level – that is, the richer neighborhoods – there was virtually no difference in post-surgical pain and function between blacks and whites two years after the operation. However in neighborhoods in which 50% or more of the population is below the poverty level, blacks had significantly more pain and poorer function than whites. In the study, pain and function were measured by a scale called the WOMAC, or the Western Ontario and McMaster Universities Osteoarthritis Index.

"What this demonstrates," explains Goodman, "is that blacks are clearly much more responsive to the effects of poverty. It doesn’t turn out to be race in a direct sense that results in increased pain after these procedures, but rather a race effect mediated through the impact of socioeconomic status."

The study authors also reported that patients without a college education had worse WOMAC pain and function scores two years after their surgeries than those with at least some degree of post-high school education, an effect that was also magnified by increased community poverty levels.

This study demonstrates that the impact of increasing poverty is significantly greater for blacks than for whites, and as poverty is disproportionally experienced by blacks, this may contribute to the persistent racial disparities in knee replacement utilization and outcomes. Why blacks appear more vulnerable to the impact of community poverty is an important area for future research. Efforts to improve post-surgical outcomes among blacks will need to address the impact of disparities in socioeconomic status.

Findings from the new study were presented on November 11 as part of a symposium on disparities in arthroplasty at this year’s American Academy of Rheumatology Annual Meeting in San Francisco.



About Hospital for Special Surgery
Hospital for Special Surgery (HSS) is the world’s largest academic medical center focused on musculoskeletal health. HSS is nationally ranked No. 1 in orthopedics and No. 2 in rheumatology by U.S. News & World Report (2016-2017), and is the first hospital in New York State to receive Magnet Recognition for Excellence in Nursing Service from the American Nurses Credentialing Center four consecutive times. HSS has one of the lowest infection rates in the country. HSS is an affiliate of Weill Cornell Medical College and as such all Hospital for Special Surgery medical staff are faculty of Weill Cornell. The hospital's research division is internationally recognized as a leader in the investigation of musculoskeletal and autoimmune diseases. Hospital for Special Surgery is located in New York City and online at www.hss.edu.


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