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AIMS: Many surgeons choose to perform total knee arthroplasty (TKA) surgery with the aid of a tourniquet. A tourniquet is a device that fits around the leg and restricts blood flow to the limb. There is a need to understand whether tourniquets are safe, and if they benefit, or harm, patients. The aim of this study was to determine the benefits and harms of tourniquet use in TKA surgery. METHODS: We searched MEDLINE, EMBASE, Cochrane Central Register of Controlled trials, and trial registries up to 26 March 2020. We included randomized controlled trials (RCTs), comparing TKA with a tourniquet versus without a tourniquet. Outcomes included: pain, function, serious adverse events (SAEs), blood loss, implant stability, duration of surgery, and length of hospital stay. RESULTS: We included 41 RCTs with 2,819 participants. SAEs were significantly more common in the tourniquet group (53/901 vs 26/898, tourniquet vs no tourniquet respectively) (risk ratio 1.73 (95% confidence interval (CI) 1.10 to 2.73). The mean pain score on the first postoperative day was 1.25 points higher (95% CI 0.32 to 2.19) in the tourniquet group. Overall blood loss did not differ between groups (mean difference 8.61 ml; 95% CI -83.76 to 100.97). The mean length of hospital stay was 0.34 days longer in the group that had surgery with a tourniquet (95% CI 0.03 to 0.64) and the mean duration of surgery was 3.7 minutes shorter (95% CI -5.53 to -1.87). CONCLUSION: TKA with a tourniquet is associated with an increased risk of SAEs, pain, and a marginally longer hospital stay. The only finding in favour of tourniquet use was a shorter time in theatre. The results make it difficult to justify the routine use of a tourniquet in TKA surgery. Cite this article: Bone Joint J 2021;103-B(5):830-839.

Original publication




Journal article


Bone Joint J

Publication Date





830 - 839


Serious adverse events, Total knee arthroplasty, Tourniquet, Arthroplasty, Replacement, Knee, Blood Loss, Surgical, Hemostasis, Surgical, Humans, Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic, Range of Motion, Articular, Tourniquets