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Forget about arthroscopy for achy knees

September 10, 2008 |  1:56 pm


Osteoarthritis of the knee plagues millions of people -- and many undergo arthroscopic surgery looking for relief from the stiffness and pain. But a new study says this popular approach just doesn't work. It's the second such study to find that minimally invasive surgery to remove cartilage fragments and smooth the knee surface is ineffective.

The new study, published in the Sept. 11 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, examined 178 Canadian men and women with an average age of 60. All of the study participants received physical therapy and medications, such as ibuprofen. But half of the participants also underwent arthroscopy at the Fowler Kennedy Sport Medicine Clinic at London Health Sciences Centre.

The eight-year study found that all the patients reported improvements in pain, stiffness and joint function and that surgery provided no additional benefit. A study published in 2002 in the New England Journal of Medicine also concluded that arthroscopic surgery didn't help with knee osteoarthritis, but that study never gained traction with doctors. Now, said the authors of the new study, maybe doctors and patients will think twice.

"Based on the available evidence, we believe that the resources currently allocated towards arthroscopic surgery for osteoarthritis would be better directed elsewhere," said the researchers, from the University of Western Ontario and Lawson Health Research Institute.

Arthroscopy is still helpful for other knee conditions, such as meniscal repair and ligament reconstruction. But for those with worn-out, achy knees, find a good physical therapist.

- Shari Roan

Photo: Arthroscopic knee surgery. Credit: University of Western Ontario