Recently released studies suggest physiotherapy is as effective as surgery in treating arthritic knees, particularly osteoarthritis. Caused by the breakdown of cartilage in the joints, the pain and swelling is often treated with arthroscopic surgery. However, a study from the New England Journal of Medicine and researchers at the University of Western Ontario finds that surgery does little to improve pain and stiffness of moderate or severe arthritis. Physiotherapy and medications can similarly treat these symptoms.

In fact, physiotherapy provided by those with formal manual therapy training, like the physiotherapists at North Shore Sports Medicine, often produced significant functional benefits for patients with knee osteoarthritis. This results in less reliance on medication.

Study Findings

CTV’s airing of “Popular Surgery Does Little for Arthritis Pain Study” on September 10, 2008 dives deeper into these studies.

The study by the University of Western Ontario included 178 men and women with an average age of 60. Each patient received physiotherapy and anti-inflammatory medications (e.g. ibuprofen or acetaminophen). 86 patients also received arthroscopic surgery. Ultimately, all patients had similar improvements in joint pain, stiffness and function, where patients who also had surgery did not experience additional benefits. Physiotherapy’s non-invasive treatment was as useful as surgery’s invasive procedure.

Patient Steve Studenny had surgery to minimize knee pain. He said the procedure helped at first, but over time, the pain returned. He added, “They did go in, clean it up — it was good for about a year and then it started hurting again.”

“For the group that we studied, it’s a waste of time,” researcher Dr. Bob Litchfield told CTV’s Avis Favaro. “We need to change practice. We need to be honest with our patients [and say], ‘This operation is not going to help the condition you have.’”

Final Takeaway

The importance of this finding shows physiotherapy can replace invasive surgery for treating arthritis symptoms, which also has the added benefit of lowered risk of infection. As for those without achy arthritis knees, it is a reminder to always seek a second opinion before receiving treatments.

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