Common knee surgery may increase arthritis risk

Sombit Mishra

Meniscus cartilage in kneeA new study conducted by researchers at Boston University School of Medicine and the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg in Germany found that common surgery to repair the meniscus—the wedge-shaped cartilage in the knee that serves as a shock absorber—may accelerate arthritis and cartilage loss.

Key background and study highlights:

  • The two menisci in each knee play an important role in joint stability and absorbing shock from impact with the ground
  • Meniscal tears are very common; surgery is typically performed to alleviate pain and improve joint function
  • Researchers examined data from the Osteoarthritis Initiative, a large, ongoing observational study of knee osteoarthritis incidence and progression. Patients in the study were on average 60.2 years old and predominantly overweight. Approximately two-thirds of the patients were women. MRIs from 355 knees that developed osteoarthritis were evaluated over a 5-year period.
  • Key Finding:  All 31 of the knees that underwent meniscal surgery during the prior year developed osteoarthritis, compared with 165 (59 percent) of the knees with meniscal damage that didn't have surgery. In addition, cartilage loss was much more common among knees that had undergone surgery: 80.8 percent of knees with surgery showed cartilage loss, compared with 39.5 percent of knees with meniscal damage and no surgery. 

If you are considering surgery to repair menisci, this study's findings should encourage you to reconsider and evaluate alternatives such as physical therapy, ice treatment, and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications.  All of these alternatives can help alleviate pain and improve joint function without requiring menisci surgery.