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.