Background: A growing clinical interest has been shown towards identifying knee osteoarthritis (OA) patients at earlier stages. The early detection of knee OA may allow for more effective interventions. Research question: The aim of this study was to determine the discriminative ability of a stair-climb test (SCT) in identifying patients with early knee OA, and to determine if descending stair time during the SCT is better than ascending stair time for the identification of these patients. Methods: This study was a secondary, cross-sectional analysis of baseline data from a randomized controlled trial. Adults with moderate to severe knee pain were enrolled (n = 57; mean age 58.9 years; 71.9% women). Each participant performed an 11-step SCT (11-SCT) while wearing shoes with a pressure sensor insole. A receiver operating characteristic analysis was used to examine the discriminative power of 11-SCT for identifying early knee OA (Kellgren and Lawrence grade 1). The discriminative power was also compared between the ascending and descending 11-SCT time as evaluated by the pressure sensor. Results: The 11-SCT time in patients with early knee OA was 0.55 s longer than that in those with symptomatic non-radiographic OA. A one-second increase in the 11-SCT time was significantly associated with 1.9-fold increased odds of early knee OA being present. The 11-SCT value with the best balance of sensitivity and specificity for identifying early knee OA was 8.33 s (area under the curve: 0.711). The descending time was not significantly better than the ascending time for identifying early knee OA. Significance: This study determined the time values of an 11-SCT that may be useful for identifying early knee OA patients. These preliminary findings may serve as the foundation for future studies investigating the clinical hallmarks associated with early knee OA.
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