Find Information About:

Drugs & Supplements

Get information and reviews on prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements. Search by name or medical condition.

Pill Identifier

Pill Identifier

Having trouble identifying your pills?

Enter the shape, color, or imprint of your prescription or OTC drug. Our pill identification tool will display pictures that you can compare to your pill.

Get Started

My Medicine

Save your medicine, check interactions, sign up for FDA alerts, create family profiles and more.

Get Started

WebMD Health Experts and Community

Talk to health experts and other people like you in WebMD's Communities. It's a safe forum where you can create or participate in support groups and discussions about health topics that interest you.

  • Second Opinion

    Second Opinion

    Read expert perspectives on popular health topics.

  • Community


    Connect with people like you, and get expert guidance on living a healthy life.

Got a health question? Get answers provided by leading organizations, doctors, and experts.

Get Answers

Sign up to receive WebMD's award-winning content delivered to your inbox.

Sign Up

Osteoarthritis Health Center

Font Size

Popular Knee Surgery May Be Useless

Experts Say Arthroscopy for Arthritis Is a Waste of Time and Money
WebMD Health News

July 10, 2002 -- Each year, hundreds of thousands of Americans have knee surgery to relieve arthritis pain. But a highly unusual study suggests the arthroscopic approach is not effective.

Arthroscopic knee surgery is done through tiny incisions without having to completely open up the knee.

"As appealing as arthroscopy might be, patients shouldn't waste their time or their money," lead researcher J. Bruce Moseley, MD, tells WebMD. "There are going to be surgeons out there who will continue to do it, because they will rationalize that the study isn't applicable to their patient population. But I would hope that most surgeons would not do it anymore."

In the Baylor College of Medicine study, people with osteoarthritis were treated with one of two types of arthroscopic surgery -- to either clean or wash out the knee joint. Results of these surgeries were compared to people who unknowingly underwent a "placebo" surgery, in which incisions were made in the knee but nothing else was actually done.

After one year, all three groups reported equal amounts of improvement in pain and function -- and the same held true two years after surgery.

The findings, published July 11 in TheNew England Journal of Medicine, call into question the value of a procedure that is performed in roughly 200,000 arthritis patients in the U.S. each year, at a total cost of over a billion dollars.

The results show that when people thought they were getting surgery yet nothing was actually done, their symptoms still improved -- called the placebo effect.

"This research indicates that there is an enormous placebo effect for this surgery, but that is the only value in the vast majority of osteoarthritis patients," says Nelda P. Wray, MD, who helped design the study. "We should certainly rethink doing this operation, and policymakers should definitely rethink paying for it."

Osteoarthritis is the most common form of joint disease. It is caused by wear and tear on the joints due to age or injury, and patients are routinely treated with painkillers and anti-inflammatory drugs. But arthroscopic surgery is one of the few treatment options short of total knee replacement when pain cannot be controlled with drugs.

Today on WebMD

elderly hands
Even with arthritis pain.
woman exercising
Here are 7 easy tips.
acupuncture needles in woman's back
How it helps arthritis, migraines, and dental pain.
chronic pain
Get personalized tips to reduce discomfort.
Keep Joints Healthy
Chronic Pain Healthcheck
close up of man with gut
man knee support
woman with cold compress
Man doing tai chi
hand gripping green rubber ball
person walking with assistance