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Does Scoping Knees Help Arthritis?

Posted Sep 22 2008 10:07am

Arthroscopic knee surgery for people suffering from osteoarthritis is a popular treatment but according to a new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, knee arthroscopy doesn’t actually reduce joint symptoms or improve function when compared with nonsurgical treatment.

Canadian researchers examined the effectiveness of arthroscopic surgery, the process of making small surgical incisions and inserting a thin, flexible fiber-optic scope and other small instruments into the knee joint to remove pieces of cartilage and smooth the joint surfaces. Arthroscopy is used to repair osteoarthritis as well as other knee problems.

The study treated 178 patients with moderate to severe osteoarthritis of the knee and an average age of 60 years old.  All patients recieved physical therapy and medications such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen but 86 of the patients also received arthroscopic surgery. They were then tracked for two years. 

The researchers found that both groups of patients experienced similar improvements in joint pain, stiffness, and function.  At the end of two years, the researchers concluded that compared with nonsurgical treatment, arthroscopic surgery of the knee did not improve joint symptoms or function for people suffering from osteoarthritis of the knee.

It is important to note that the study focused on arthritis-related knee problems — arthroscopic knee surgery is still beneficial in other conditions that affect the knee, such as meniscal and ligament problems.

Patients who have a combination of knee problems, such as osteoarthritis and a meniscal tear might also respond better to arthroscopy. 

Source: Kirkley, A. The New England Journal of Medicine, Sept. 11, 2008; vol 359: pp 1097-1107.

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