Why Knee Surgery May Not be the Answer to Arthritis

Have you ever experienced severe pain in your leg or knee? If that pain has been continuous or it keeps on coming back to you, you might already have arthritis.

Arthritis is a chronic illness which can be very painful when you move your joints. This condition commonly appears in the knee, which is a major joint of the leg. It often attacks you when you least expect it. Because of the pain, patients are continuously asking their doctors for a cure. Knee surgery was developed specifically to answer this need.

However, there were studies that doubt the effect of knee surgery in arthritis. One study was conducted by the Veterans Affairs (VA) while another study was made by Canadian doctors and researchers addressing this concern. The authors said that the temporary relief felt by the patients may just be placebo effect. Furthermore, study results show that patients are better off with taking anti-inflammatory drugs and showing up for therapy sessions.

In knee surgeries, doctors insert a miniature camera and scope into the knee. Then it flushes away bone chips and smooth out the rough cartilage. Millions who have undergone this surgery reported that it did not dramatically reduce the pain and stiffness of their arthritis. In fact, it didn’t work any better than drugs or therapy.

Because of the VA study, U.S. Medicare decided to drop the coverage of this procedure for patients. But it can be debatable whether this type of surgery has been reduced due to this move. Some believe that the surgeons still tweak their diagnosis to meet the requirements of Medicare (since surgery is still covered for other conditions except for arthritic surgery).

Some critics also rejected the findings of the VA study. They said that the investigators did not define their patient group very carefully. However, they were silenced when the study from Canada came. Several Canadian doctors and researchers ran their study from 1999 to 2007 which included patients of physiotherapists, rheumatologists, and orthopedic surgeons.

Their participants are better defined and more diverse. They created two groups made up of 178 women and men from London, Ontario area. During this study, the first group received knee surgery with medications and physical therapy while the other group received only the medication and physical therapy.

Since the Canadian study was more balanced with obesity, gender, and age of its participants, the results were taken seriously. It further confirmed the claims of earlier patients who have undergone this operation. The study also suggests that the origin of pain, age of the patient, and the primary cause of injury should be taken into consideration before going through surgery.

One of the co-authors Dr. Bob Litchfield (medical director in Ontario, Canada) said that this operation would be more appropriate if your arthritis is not the primary cause of pain. Also, if you are a young patient who has minimal arthritic changes (shown in X-rays), then you can have the most gain.

Although knee surgeries are considered as safe operations, there are still risks of phlebitis or infections. And considering the minimal effect that it brings to relieve arthritic pain, you should reflect carefully before you choose this type of treatment.


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