Objective: To determine the effects and complications of arthroscopic surgery compared with conservative management strategies in patients with degenerative knee disease.
Design: Systematic review.
Main outcome measures: Pain, function, adverse events.
Data sources: MEDLINE, EMBASE, the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL), Google Scholar and Open Grey up to August 2016.
Eligibility criteria: For effects, randomised clinical trials (RCTs) comparing arthroscopic surgery with a conservative management strategy (including sham surgery) in patients with degenerative knee disease. For complications, RCTs and observational studies.
Review methods: Two reviewers independently extracted data and assessed risk of bias for patient-important outcomes. A parallel guideline committee (BMJ Rapid Recommendations) provided input on the design and interpretation of the systematic review, including selection of patient-important outcomes. We used the GRADE approach to rate the certainty (quality) of the evidence.
Results: We included 13 RCTs and 12 observational studies. With respect to pain, the review identified high-certainty evidence that knee arthroscopy results in a very small reduction in pain up to 3 months (mean difference =5.4 on a 100-point scale, 95% CI 2.0 to 8.8) and very small or no pain reduction up to 2 years (mean difference =3.1, 95% CI -0.2 to 6.4) when compared with conservative management. With respect to function, the review identified moderate-certainty evidence that knee arthroscopy results in a very small improvement in the short term (mean difference =4.9 on a 100-point scale, 95% CI 1.5 to 8.4) and very small or no improved function up to 2 years (mean difference =3.2, 95% CI -0.5 to 6.8). Alternative presentations of magnitude of effect, and associated sensitivity analyses, were consistent with the findings of the primary analysis. Low-quality evidence suggested a very low probability of serious complications after knee arthroscopy.
Conclusions: Over the long term, patients who undergo knee arthroscopy versus those who receive conservative management strategies do not have important benefits in pain or function.
Trial registration number: PROSPERO CRD42016046242.
Keywords: GRADE; Osteoarthritis; arthritis; knee pain; meniscus tear.
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