Most Popular Knee Surgery Is a Big Waste for Many

Study: arthroscopic surgery as good as fake surgery for some meniscus tears

By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff

Posted Dec 26, 2013 7:43 AM CST | Updated Dec 29, 2013 7:14 AM CST

(Newser) – If you're anticipating having arthroscopic surgery in the new year to fix your torn meniscus, bad news for you: A new study found the procedure is, for many, as effective as ... fake surgery. That could have big implications, considering the US spends an estimated $4 billion a year on what ranks as the No. 1 orthopedic procedure; some 700,000 take place each year. The surgery is often done in the pursuit of ending pain thought to be caused by the cartilage tear, which results in loose, ragged pieces of cartilage that doctors believe impairs knee-joint motion, reports the Wall Street Journal. But the study, out of Finland, has different implications for different patients: for the young, or those who tore the cartilage in what the New York Times terms an "acute sports injury," the surgery can be useful.

But for those whose tears are the result of the wear that can accompany aging knees—the case about 80% of the time—other options like physical therapy may be the wiser course. The set-up for the study was a thorough one: All 146 patients underwent anesthesia and had an incision made; except some of them didn't actually have the surgery. A year later, the majority of patients in both the real and fake surgery group said their knees were improved, and they would opt for the same "surgery" again. One orthopedic surgeon says part of the problem is that the tear may not be causing the pain (osteoarthritis could be the culprit in some cases). But "there's a lot of pressure to operate," he says. "Financial, obviously. But also, if a primary care doctor keeps sending me patients who are complaining of knee pain and I keep not operating on them, then the primary care doctor is going to stop sending me patients." (Click to read about a new body part recently discovered ... in the knee.)

  (Shutterstock)
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