Live Better

Arthroscopy for osteoarthritis: why you should think twice

Arthroscopic surgery for knee osteoarthritis is a growing bone of contention.

Osteoarthritis is very common in Australia – in fact, it affects 1.9 million, or one in 11 Australians and is the nation’s leading cause of chronic pain and disability.

Unsurprisingly, it costs the health system a lot – an estimated $3.75 billion annually – but research suggests that much of that cost may be going towards unnecessary knee surgery.

In the past, knee arthroscopy has been commonly prescribed to treat knee osteoarthritis when patients aren’t responding to other treatments. But the evidence doesn’t necessarily stack up.

A small 2002 study examined the effectiveness of knee arthroscopy for osteoarthritis by comparing the results of patients who received the procedure with those who received a placebo procedure. It found the surgery was no more effective than the placebo.

Since then, the evidence has grown. A 2016 systematic review of the benefits and harms of knee arthroscopy did not support the use of arthroscopic surgery in middle-aged and older patients with knee pain and degenerative disease. And a 2016 Finnish study further challenges the commonly held belief that an arthroscopy can help people who experience mechanical knee issues such as joint catching or joint locking via partial removal of a torn meniscus.

Many clinical guidelines, like the Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Healthcare’s Clinical Care Standards, have recently been updated to reflect this research.  But, what does it mean for patients?

Medibank Clinical Adviser Sue Abhary said patients play an important role in driving better management of osteoarthritis.

“We know that alternative treatments like exercise, maintaining a healthy weight and pain medication can be used to effectively manage osteoarthritis in a lot of cases. If you are suffering from knee osteoarthritis, make sure you ask your doctor about these options before agreeing to surgery.”

“It’s also important to ask your doctor about the potential risks, chances of success and alternatives to any surgery before deciding to go ahead.”

Dr Abhary said the Medibank Better Health Foundation is working to be a catalyst for positive change, with a particular focus on the management of osteoarthritis.

“The foundation is investing in research and using that research to promote healthy behaviours, inform policy and improve clinical practice.”

Recommended Reading

Health Insights

Can too much stress lead to a bad heart?

The negative effects of constantly being in fight-or-flight. Read more

Health Insights

Medibank trialling haemodialysis in the home

Giving members with chronic kidney disease more choice. Read more

Health Insights

Innovating for members living with chronic disease

CareComplete is supporting members to manage their health. Read more

Health Insights

Medibank’s chemotherapy in the home trial

Working towards more choice over where you get treatment. Read more

Health Insights

How do I know if my child is a healthy weight?

It's not always easy for parents to recognise problems. Read more

Health Insights

Empty Nest Syndrome: what, why and how to cope

When your child moving out affects your mental health. Read more

youtubetwittersign-up-userArtboard Copynp_phone_503983_000000download_red4xdownload_red4x copyArtboardmember-offer-starLogoMedibank - Logo - ColourOval 5Instagram iconicon-editdownload_red4x copygive-back--spinesgive-back--moneygive-back--massagegive-back--likegive-back--jointgive-back--emailgive-back--dislikedownload_red4xdownload_red4xGroup 5filter-iconfacebookMobile Navcheckcarret-upcarret-rightcarret-leftcarret-downGroup Copy 2arrowarrow-circleanimated-tick