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Danish researchers have found that beyond the first six months, the benefits of surgery (usually involving several small incisions in the knee after which surgeons operate using thin surgical tools with a camera attached to guide them) were negligible.
Researchers looked at 18 studies conducted since the year 2000 on the effects of knee surgery compared to controls such as exercise and drug therapy. They found patients who had surgery did report less knee pain at three- and six-month follow-up appointments, but not by the 24-month mark. There was also no "significant benefit on physical function."
In the paper, published in June 2015 in the online version of the British Medical Journal (BMJ), researchers wrote that the pain relief resulting from surgery was comparable to that of an acetaminophen drug called paracetamol and to exercise therapy for knee osteoporosis. It wasn’t as powerful as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.
Weighing the risks of surgery
That’s not all. They also found serious health risks involved with the surgery. The biggest was deep vein thrombosis, a disease causing blood clots to break loose and travel to the lungs (which can lead to restricted blood flow and pulmonary embolism). About four patients out of every 1,000 procedures were affected. Other, less prevalent risks included pulmonary embolism, infection and death.
While surgery may still be warranted for some patients, the researchers suggest categorizing, and treating, patients differently. Tears in the meniscus are often assumed to be the cause of pain, but they’re also one of the characteristics of knee osteoporosis, a degenerative joint disease.
Instead, the researchers recommend that middle-aged patients with knee pain and meniscal tears should be treated for early stage osteoarthritis. Exercise and weight loss are also recommended. If you have serious knee pain, that’s as good a place to start as any.
Read on for more about coping with running injuries and how to prevent joint injuries.