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Exercise As Good As Surgery for Knee Pain

Considering knee surgery? You may not want to rush into the operation room, a new study suggests.  The study shows that physical therapy and exercise are as effective as surgery for knee arthritis and torn cartilages.

The researchers recommended that patients try physical therapy before surgery, since exercise carries less costs and risks.

Every year nearly half a million surgeries are conducted for torn meniscus. A meniscus is C-shaped cartilage in the knee which helps distribute the body’s weight evenly across the joint. Although tears to the meniscus don’t always causes symptoms, it can produce significant pain.

People with arthritis are more likely to have a torn meniscus, making it difficult to distinguish whether knee pain is the result of arthritis or a tear. This also means it’s challenging to know when surgery will help.

To see whether some patients could avoid knee surgery, researchers compared surgery with physician therapy in a group of 351 patients with arthritis and meniscal tears. Patients assigned to physical therapy were given the option to crossover to surgery. While some PT patients did opt for surgery later on, those who stuck it out with therapy for six months to a year had the same improvements as people who had surgery.

The findings confirm that patients with knee pain can avoid the adverse effects of surgery by pursuing conservative options first. Research suggests that chiropractic care, combined with exercise and weight loss, is another effective way to relieve knee pain naturally.


Katz, et al. Surgery versus physical therapy for meniscal tear and osteoarthritis. The New England Journal of Medicine 2013; doi: 10.1056/NEJMoa1301408.