The Common Knee Procedure That May Cause More Harm Than Good

The Common Knee Procedure That May Cause More Harm Than Good

Close to 50% of persons aged 65 and over experience osteoarthritis in their knees. Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis and occurs when the protective cartilage on the ends of bones wears down over time leading to pain, stiffness and decreased mobility. It frequently occurs in the knees and can be very painful.

To help improve mobility and treat joint pain, it has been common for adults with osteoarthritis to undergo knee arthroscopy. Arthroscopy of the knee for arthritis, involves making several small cuts to insert a small camera and instruments to view the joint, trim loose cartilage and wash the joint out. Unfortunately, this procedure may do more harm than good. 

There is a growing body of research showing that this procedure may not be necessary for most adults since it usually has the same long term outcomes as non-operative and less invasive treatment. Such treatments can include weight loss, physiotherapy, exercise, anti-inflammatory pain medicines and pain-relieving joint injections. These treatments are far less risky than knee arthroscopy. As a surgical procedure, arthroscopy typically requires spinal or general anesthetic - which itself is a risk - in addition to the chance of infections or structural damage to the joint which may arise from even the best planned procedure.

Knee arthroscopy does have its place and usefulness. For example, meniscus repair surgery for a younger person with a knee injury can help improve function, treat pain and increase mobility. The key takeaway point is that  this procedure must be matched to the right conditions and the right patients, rather than be a default procedure for those with knee osteoarthritis.


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