A randomized, controlled trial of arthroscopic surgery versus closed-needle joint lavage for patients with osteoarthritis of the knee

Arthritis Rheum. 1993 Mar;36(3):289-96. doi: 10.1002/art.1780360302.


Objective: To compare arthroscopic surgery and closed-needle joint lavage for patients with non-end-stage osteoarthritis (OA) of the knee under controlled, experimental conditions.

Methods: Thirty-two subjects who met specific clinical, radiologic, medical, and rehabilitation criteria were randomized to receive arthroscopic surgery (n = 18) or joint lavage (n = 14). Outcome measures evaluated at baseline and at 3 and 12 months of followup included 3 standard clinical parameters, self-reported pain and functional status (by the Arthritis Impact Measurement Scales), 50-foot walk time, 2 global scales, and direct and indirect medical costs.

Results: At 3 months of followup, there were no significant between-group differences in pain, self-reported and observed functional status, and patient and "blinded" physician global assessments. The arthroscopic procedure cost $3,840 more than did closed-needle joint lavage. After 1 year, there were no between-group differences in medication costs, utilization of medical services, or indirect costs related to employment or use of household help. After 1 year, 44% of subjects who underwent arthroscopy reported improvement and 58% of subjects who underwent joint lavage improved. Patients with tears of the anterior two-thirds of the medial meniscus or any lateral meniscus tear had a higher probability of improvement (by "blinded" physician assessment) after arthroscopic surgery (0.63) than did patients with other intraarticular pathology (0.20).

Conclusion: The search for and removal of soft tissue abnormalities via arthroscopic surgery does not appear justified for all patients with non-end-stage OA of the knee who fail to respond to conservative therapy, but it may be beneficial for certain subgroups.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Comparative Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Arthroscopy
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Knee Joint / surgery*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Osteoarthritis / economics
  • Osteoarthritis / surgery*
  • Therapeutic Irrigation*
  • Treatment Outcome