We performed a systematic review and meta-analysis to compare the efficacy of intermittent mechanical compression combined with pharmacological thromboprophylaxis, against either mechanical compression or pharmacological prophylaxis in preventing deep-vein thrombosis (DVT) and pulmonary embolism in patients undergoing hip or knee replacement. A total of six randomised controlled trials, evaluating a total of 1399 patients, were identified. In knee arthroplasty, the rate of DVT was reduced from 18.7% with anticoagulation alone to 3.7% with combined modalities (risk ratio (RR) 0.27, p = 0.03; number needed to treat: seven). There was moderate, albeit non-significant, heterogeneity (I(2) = 42%). In hip replacement, there was a non-significant reduction in DVT from 8.7% with mechanical compression alone to 7.2% with additional pharmacological prophylaxis (RR 0.84) and a significant reduction in DVT from 9.7% with anticoagulation alone to 0.9% with additional mechanical compression (RR 0.17, p < 0.001; number needed to treat: 12), with no heterogeneity (I(2) = 0%). The included studies had insufficient power to demonstrate an effect on pulmonary embolism. We conclude that the addition of intermittent mechanical leg compression augments the efficacy of anticoagulation in preventing DVT in patients undergoing both knee and hip replacement. Further research on the role of combined modalities in thromboprophylaxis in joint replacement and in other high-risk situations, such as fracture of the hip, is warranted.
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