Knee Pain – Surgery isn’t always the answer
By: Jason Gallant, Registered Physiotherapist, Owner Trilogy Physiotherapy
The vast majority of people will experience knee pain in their lifetime, and this prevalence only increases as we age. The most common cause of this pain is damage to the meniscus, the cartilage between the knee bones. This can lead to knee pain, stiffness, and arthritis in the joint, and affects almost 40% of people over age 50, and almost 50% of people over 65. The most common procedure to fix this is arthroscopic surgery, which is performed over 2 million times each year across the globe.
A recent study from the British Medical Journal showed that arthroscopic surgery, while showing a very small improvement in pain after 3 months, did not show any long-term benefits in knee pain, function, or quality of life 1-2 years down the road. It was also shown to have greater short-term risks from the surgery, such as blood clots, infections, and lost income due to time off work.
The study strongly recommends that we take a conservative management strategy when dealing with knee pain. This involves exercise therapy prescribed by a physiotherapist, as well as medication.
So what does this all mean? Don’t rush into surgery! Some specialists may recommend the surgery without necessarily informing patients about all your treatment options. My advice is to work with your physician to get a treatment plan that works best for you, and always try a course of physiotherapy first. You may not see immediate results, but the research shows that a proper exercise program and treatment from a physiotherapist will benefit your knee more than surgery in the long run. It will avoid exposing you to the risks of surgery, and is less costly in terms of rehabilitation time and lost work hours. While surgery may be necessary in some situations, it should always be the last resort.
source: Siemieniuk RAC, Harris IA, Agoritsas T, et al. Arthroscopic surgery for degenerative knee arthritis and meniscal tears: a clinical practice guideline
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