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Clarification About the Benefits of Arthroscopic Knee Surgery PDF Print E-mail

An article appearing in the September 11 edition of the New England Journal of Medicine is making headlines with its findings that arthroscopic lavage and debridement of osteoarthritic knee cartilage may have no significant benefit for the patient. While the new data may cause orthopaedic surgeons to reassess these particular procedures, some headlines and reporting have also seemed to imply that all arthroscopic knee procedures are ineffective. This is mistaken, and the Canadian Orthopaedic Association would like to correct this misperception.

Arthroscopic lavage of an arthritic knee involves flushing out grit that results from the gradual, persistent erosion of cartilage surfaces in the joint. Debridement is the surgical smoothing of rough edges and the removal of bony outgrowths. Never offered as a cure, the clinical goal of these procedures is to temporarily reduce pain and improve the knee's range of motion. Results are highly individual because arthritis is a highly variable disease and, thus, a surgeon's decision to operate is made on a case-by-case basis.

The NEJM article questions the value of only these two specific arthroscopic procedures within the clinical context of treating longstanding osteoarthritis - and not the value of knee arthroscopy in general.

To date, arthroscopic surgery remains the gold standard for treating those acute knee injuries that routinely fell professional athletes, as well as "weekend warriors," and that often lead to arthritis years later. The benefits, casino for example, of repairing tears to the meniscus - a crescent-shaped pad of cartilage that acts as the knee's shock-absorber - are particularly well-documented.

Every year, thousands of Canadians with knee injuries return to active, pain-free lives as a result of these minimally invasive procedures, which avoid many of the risks associated with general anesthesia and open joint surgery.

The Canadian Orthopaedic Association feels it would be extremely unfortunate if patients, misguided by media reports, began denying themselves effective care for knee injuries.

For more information, contact:

Doug Thomson
Canadian Orthopaedic Association

[Since knee osteoarthritis is extremely variable from individual to individual, patients should contact their orthopaedic surgeons if they have questions about their specific condition and course of treatment.]

Last Updated on Friday, 29 April 2016 13:12