According to a recently published study, that question is open for debate!
You may have a neighbor or relative who felt a “twinge” in their knee when they pivoted or went into a deep squat. The pain was enough to go to a physician and an MRI revealed a “Menicus tear.” What happens next, Physical Therapy (PT) or surgery? According to researchers in Finland, who studied two sets of patients —one group that received surgery and another that was led to believe that it had—no significant differences in improvement between the groups were observed after one year.
In addition, a separate study published in the New England Journal of Medicine reports that arthroscopic surgery for a torn meniscus is the most common orthopedic procedure performed in the U.S. The study showed that approximately $4 billion is spent annually for an estimated 700,000 surgeries.1 The results from the Finland study indicate PT may help lower these costs and possibly avoid undue surgery.
The meniscus is a crescent shaped pad of cartilage in the knee between the femur (thigh bone) and tibia (shin bone). The meniscus acts as a cushion and helps disperse body weight, lessening friction that is caused through movement. When torn, a meniscus tear could become lodged between the femur and tibia limiting movement. That is definitely a reason to have surgery. But, many times there is only pain, no locking or catching. These are the patients who tend to do better with PT. So, is surgery necessary for a meniscus tear?
“Surgery did provide a slight advantage in certain areas early on, …but the differences disappeared by the end of the 12 months.”2 Physical Therapy addresses weaknesses by strengthening muscles, tightness by stretching joints and creates more efficient movement with functional exercises, which for some, can be enough to alleviate the need for surgery.
- JewishJournal.com, “Knee Surgery Ineffective for Many Cases of Torn Cartilage”, January 3, 2014
- The Wall Street Journal, “Fake Knee Surgery as Good as Real Procedure, Study Finds”, December 25, 2013