Testing the proportional hazards assumption in cox regression and dealing with possible non-proportionality in total joint arthroplasty research: methodological perspectives and review

Ilari Kuitunen, Ville T. Ponkilainen, Mikko M. Uimonen, Antti Eskelinen, Aleksi Reito

Research output: Contribution to journalReview Articlepeer-review

49 Citations (Scopus)
6 Downloads (Pure)


Background: Survival analysis and effect of covariates on survival time is a central research interest. Cox proportional hazards regression remains as a gold standard in the survival analysis. The Cox model relies on the assumption of proportional hazards (PH) across different covariates. PH assumptions should be assessed and handled if violated. Our aim was to investigate the reporting of the Cox regression model details and testing of the PH assumption in survival analysis in total joint arthroplasty (TJA) studies. Methods: We conducted a review in the PubMed database on 28th August 2019. A total of 1154 studies were identified. The abstracts of these studies were screened for words “cox and “hazard*” and if either was found the abstract was read. The abstract had to fulfill the following criteria to be included in the full-text phase: topic was knee or hip TJA surgery; survival analysis was used, and hazard ratio reported. If all the presented criteria were met, the full-text version of the article was then read. The full-text was included if Cox method was used to analyze TJA survival. After accessing the full-texts 318 articles were included in final analysis. Results: The PH assumption was mentioned in 114 of the included studies (36%). KM analysis was used in 281 (88%) studies and the KM curves were presented graphically in 243 of these (87%). In 110 (45%) studies, the KM survival curves crossed in at least one of the presented figures. The most common way to test the PH assumption was to inspect the log-minus-log plots (n = 59). The time-axis division method was the most used corrected model (n = 30) in cox analysis. Of the 318 included studies only 63 (20%) met the following criteria: PH assumption mentioned, PH assumption tested, testing method of the PH assumption named, the result of the testing mentioned, and the Cox regression model corrected, if required. Conclusions: Reporting and testing of the PH assumption and dealing with non-proportionality in hip and knee TJA studies was limited. More awareness and education regarding the assumptions behind the used statistical models among researchers, reviewers and editors are needed to improve the quality of TJA research. This could be achieved by better collaboration with methodologists and statisticians and introducing more specific reporting guidelines for TJA studies. Neglecting obvious non-proportionality undermines the overall research efforts since causes of non-proportionality, such as possible underlying pathomechanisms, are not considered and discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Article number489
JournalBmc Musculoskeletal Disorders
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2021
Publication typeA2 Review article in a scientific journal


  • Methodology
  • Reproducibility
  • Survival analysis

Publication forum classification

  • Publication forum level 1

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Rheumatology
  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine


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