What is knee arthroscopy?
Arthroscopy is a minimally invasive surgical procedure in which a fiberoptic endoscope is inserted into the joint through a small incision. The surgeon makes a second incision through which to insert surgical instruments that can be used to debride or resect areas within the knee under visualization of the endoscope.
Knee arthroscopy is mostly performed to treat osteoarthritis (this process includes lavage of the joint with removal of loose bodies and/or chondroplasty of the articular surfaces) and meniscal tear ( it is usually a partial meniscectomy, in which part of the torn meniscus is removed).
Does knee arthroscopy really work? Let’s have a look at the following articles…
Knee arthroscopy versus conservative management in patients with
degenerative knee disease: a systematic review (BMJ 2017)
Over the long term, patients who undergo knee arthroscopy versus those who receive conservative management strategies do not have important benefits in pain or function.
Patients and their healthcare providers must trade-off the marginal short-term benefits against the burden of the surgical procedure (pain, swelling, limited mobility, restriction of activities, over a period of 2 to 6 weeks).
Arthroscopic partial meniscectomy (APM) is one of the most common orthopaedic operations, with an incidence that has increased steadily from 1990s until late 2010s. Most APMs are carried out in middle-aged and older patients with knee symptoms and degenerative knee disease. Several recent meta-analyses based on randomised controlled trials (RCTs) have failed to show a treatment-benefit of APM over conservative treatment or placebo surgery for these patients.
In this 2-year follow-up of patients without knee osteoarthritis but with symptoms of a degenerative medial meniscus tear, the outcomes after APM were no better than those after placebo surgery. No evidence could be found to support the prevailing ideas that patients with presence of mechanical symptoms or certain meniscus tear characteristics or those who have failed initial conservative treatment are more likely to benefit from APM.
Approximately 25% of people older than 50 years experience knee pain from degenerative knee disease.
What is degenerative knee disease?
Knee disease is an inclusive term, which many consider synonymous with osteoarthritis. We use the term degenerative knee disease to explicitly include patients with knee pain, particularly if they are >35 years old, with or without:
- Imaging evidence of osteoarthritis (OA)
- Meniscus tears
- Locking, clicking, or other mechanical symptoms except persistent objective locked knee
- Acute or subacute onset of symptoms
Most people with degenerative arthritis have at least one of these characteristics. The term degenerative knee disease does not include patients having recent debut of their symptoms after a major knee trauma with acute onset of joint swelling (such as haemarthrosis).
Management options include weight loss if overweight, a variety of interventions led by physical therapists, exercise, oral or topical pain medications such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, intraarticular corticosteroid and other injections, arthroscopic knee surgery, and knee replacement or osteotomy.
What you need to know
There is a strong recommendation against the use of arthroscopy in nearly all patients with degenerative knee disease, based on systematic reviews. This recommendation applies to patients with or without imaging evidence of osteoarthritis, mechanical symptoms, or sudden symptom onset.
Arthroscopic knee surgery for degenerative knee disease is the most common orthopaedic procedure in countries with available data and on a global scale is performed more than two million times each year. Arthroscopic procedures for degenerative knee disease cost more than $3bn per year in the US alone.