Clients of the Alaska Personal Injury Group often have to decide whether to have knee surgery. When the underlying cause of pain and discomfort is arthritis in the knee, rather than a mechanical problem like a torn ligament, the arthroscopic surgery proposed by orthopedists is often not helpful. A surgeon will admit this if pressed, and now there is a study that addresses this very issue.
In an article just published in the Cochrane Database, researchers studied the outcomes of arthroscopic debridement surgery in patients with knee arthritis after reviewing the published literature regarding such surgeries. The researchers found that arthroscopic surgery does not improve pain or ability to function when compared to simple placebo and sham surgery. They also concluded that arthroscopic surgery led to little or no difference in pain levels or the ability to function in comparison to simple lavage (washing out) of the knee joint. Further, having arthroscopic surgery also comes with the additional risks of surgery, such as pain, infection, or embolism. The cautions that come with relying on this data is that the authors ultimately relied on only 3 out of the 18 studies they reviewed, and it is clear that some patients with particular injuries can be helped with arthroscopic surgery. The trick is for the patient to figure out if they are really in that small subset of patients who can be helped by the procedure.
With arthroscopic surgery of questionable value where no operable condition is causing their problems, clients are thus faced with relying on more conservative measures to ameliorate their pain and limitation from knee arthritis, such as physical therapy, viscosupplementation (injecting a cushioning fluid into the joint space), and medications to forestall more serious surgery like total knee replacement.