Introduction: Arthroscopic partial meniscectomy (APM) to treat degenerative meniscus injury is the most common orthopaedic procedure. However, valid evidence of the efficacy of APM is lacking. Controlling for the placebo effect of any medical intervention is important, but seems particularly pertinent for the assessment of APM, as the symptoms commonly attributed to a degenerative meniscal injury (medial joint line symptoms and perceived disability) are subjective and display considerable fluctuation, and accordingly difficult to gauge objectively.
Methods and analysis: A multicentre, parallel randomised, placebo surgery controlled trial is being carried out to assess the efficacy of APM for patients from 35 to 65 years of age with a degenerative meniscus injury. Patients with degenerative medial meniscus tear and medial joint line symptoms, without clinical or radiographic osteoarthritis of the index knee, were enrolled and then randomly assigned (1 : 1) to either APM or diagnostic arthroscopy (placebo surgery). Patients are followed up for 12 months. According to the prior power calculation, 140 patients were randomised. The two randomised patient groups will be compared at 12 months with intention-to-treat analysis. To safeguard against bias, patients, healthcare providers, data collectors, data analysts, outcome adjudicators and the researchers interpreting the findings will be blind to the patients' interventions (APM/placebo). Primary outcomes are Lysholm knee score (a generic knee instrument), knee pain (using a numerical rating scale), and WOMET score (a disease-specific, health-related quality of life index). The secondary outcome is 15D (a generic quality of life instrument). Further, in one of the five centres recruiting patients for the randomised controlled trial (RCT), all patients scheduled for knee arthroscopy due to a degenerative meniscus injury are prospectively followed up using the same protocol as in the RCT to provide an external validation cohort. In this article, we present and discuss our study design, focusing particularly on the internal and external validity of our trial and the ethics of carrying out a placebo surgery controlled trial.
Ethics and dissemination: The protocol has been approved by the institutional review board of the Pirkanmaa Hospital District and the trial has been duly registered at ClinicalTrials.gov. The findings of this study will be disseminated widely through peer-reviewed publications and conference presentations.
Trial registration: ClinicalTrials.gov, number NCT00549172.