Physical therapy may treat knee pain just as well as surgery

March 20, 2013

Topic: orthopaedic problems

Researchers from the University of North Carolina found that most athletes could return to play after an anterior cruciate ligament injury.

Orthopaedic problems that affect the knee are common. Scientists have been looking into how these issues are treated, and a new study reveals that physical therapy may be just as successful as reconstructive surgery. 

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that 18 percent of American adults report knee pain, which can be caused by a variety of reasons, at some point in their lives. Two common scenarios include arthritis of the joint and torn knee cartilage. 

When an injured patient is evaluated and diagnosed by an orthopaedic surgeon, he or she may have the option to undergo reconstructive surgery of the knee. However, a new study presented at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons and published in the New England Journal of Medicine states that a person may want to wait before going under the knife. 

Researchers studied more than 350 patients who were older than age 45 and experienced knee pain from either a meniscal tear or osteoarthritis. They randomly assigned the subjects to either undergo arthroscopic surgery or get treated with physical therapy. 

The study's investigators found that both groups exhibited improvements in recovery.

"Patients who wish to avoid surgery can be reassured that physical therapy is a reasonable option, although they should recognize that not everyone will improve with physical therapy alone. In this study, one-third of patients who received physical therapy ultimately chose to have surgery, often because they did not improve with [physical therapy]," said Jeffrey Katz, M.D., a professor of medicine and orthopedic surgery at Harvard Medical School.

In the U.S., orthopaedic surgeons perform approximately 450,000 arthroscopic surgeries to treat meniscal tears. This research could potentially lead to fewer patients undergoing the surgery, or at least give them a second viable option to consider.

Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine news & articles

More articles