Ethics in Medicine

Knee Surgery for Meniscus Repair No Better Than Placebo

Kristen Sparrow • January 14, 2014

Woman with Sore Knee in need of acupuctureOf course, surgery is one of the most powerful placebos that exist.  But the studies that have actually looked at placebo surgery are vanishingly rare.  So bravo that they looked, and shame on surgeons that they so seldom scrutinize the real value of their procedures.

THURSDAY, Dec. 26, 2013 (HealthDay News) — Improvements in knee pain following a common orthopedic procedure appear to be largely due to the placebo effect, a new Finnish study suggests.
The research, which was published Dec. 26 in the New England Journal of Medicine, has weighty implications for the 700,000 patients who have arthroscopic surgery each year in the United States to repair a torn meniscus. A meniscus is a C-shaped pad of cartilage that cushions the knee joint.
For a meniscal repair, orthopedic surgeons use a camera and tiny instruments inserted through small incisions around the knee to shave damaged tissue away. The idea is that clearing sharp and unstable debris out of the joint should relieve pain.
But mounting evidence suggests that, for many patients, the procedure just doesn’t work as intended.