Physical Therapy as Effective as Surgery for Meniscal Tear
Mar 20, 2013
CHICAGO, Illinois — Patients with knee osteoarthritis and a meniscal tear who received physical therapy without surgery had good functional improvement 6 months later, and outcomes did not differ significantly from patients who underwent arthroscopic partial meniscectomy, a new clinical trial shows.
In the Meniscal Tear in Osteoarthritis Research (METEOR) trial, both groups of patients improved substantially in function and pain.
This finding, presented here at the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons 2013 Annual Meeting and published online simultaneously in the New England Journal of Medicine, provides “considerable reassurance regarding an initial nonoperative strategy,” the investigators report.
Patients with a meniscal tear and osteoarthritis pose a treatment challenge because it is not clear which condition is causing their symptoms,” principal investigator Jeffrey Katz, MD, from Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts, told Medscape Medical News.
“These data suggest that there are 2 reasonable pathways for patients with knee arthritis and meniscal tear,” Dr. Katz explained. “We hope physicians will use these data to help patients understand their choices.”
In an accompanying editorial, clinical epidemiologist Rachelle Buchbinder, PhD, from the Monash University School of Public Health and Preventive Medicine in Victoria, Australia, said that “these results should change practice. Currently, millions of people are being exposed to potential risks associated with a [surgical] treatment that may or may not offer specific benefit, and the costs are substantial.”
These results should change practice.
The METEOR trial enrolled 351 patients from 7 medical centers in the United States. Eligible patients were older than 45 years, had osteoarthritic cartilage change documented with magnetic resonance imaging, and had at least 1 symptom of meniscal tear, such as knee clicking or giving way, that lasted at least 1 month despite drug treatment, physical therapy, or limited activity.
In this intent-to-treat analysis, investigators randomly assigned 174 patients to arthroscopic partial meniscectomy plus postoperative physical therapy and 177 to physical therapy alone.
The physical therapy in both regimens was a standardized 3-stage program that allowed patients to advance to the next intensity level at their own pace, Dr. Katz explained. The program involved 1 or 2 sessions a week for about 6 weeks and home exercises. The average number of physical therapy visits was 7 in the surgery group and 8 in the nonsurgery group.
Investigators evaluated patients 6 and 12 months after randomization. The primary outcome was the between-group difference in change in physical function score from baseline to 6 months, assessed using the Western Ontario and McMaster Universities Osteoarthritis Index (WOMAC). At baseline, demographic characteristics and WOMAC physical function scores were similar in the 2 groups.
At 6 months, improvement in the WOMAC function score was comparable in the 2 groups. The mean between-group difference of 2.4 points was not statistically significant after analysis of covariance. There was also no significant difference between groups in pain improvement or frequency of adverse events.
METEOR: Mean Improvement in Osteoarthritis Index at 6 Months
|Treatment Group||Mean Improvement (Points)||95% Confidence Interval|
|Surgery plus physical therapy||20.9||17.9–23.9|
There was 1 death in each group, and 8 patients in the nonsurgery group and 13 in the surgery group withdrew in the first 6 months of the study.
Patients in the nonsurgery group were allowed to cross over to the surgical group at any time. Within 6 months, 30% of patients did so.
“They were not doing very well,” Dr. Katz said. His team is still analyzing the reasons these patients did not benefit from intensive physical therapy.
The 12-month results were similar to the 6-month results. In addition, by 12 months, outcomes for the crossover patients and for those in the original surgery group were similar.
Meeting delegate John Mays, MD, an orthopaedic surgeon practicing in Bossier City, Louisiana, who was asked by Medscape Medical News to comment on the findings, said most patients don’t choose physical therapy. “In the real world, most people want a quick fix” and choose surgery, he noted.
Dr. Mays said he would have liked to have seen a group of patients who underwent surgery but did not receive postoperative physical therapy. He explained that his patients with osteoarthritis and meniscal tear rarely get physical therapy after arthroscopic meniscectomy; they most often do home-based exercises.
He added that “most insurance plans have limits on the number of physical therapy sessions they allow.”
This study is funded by the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. Dr. Katz, Dr. Buchbinder, and Dr. Mays have disclosed no relevant financial relationships.
American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) 2013 Annual Meeting: Abstract SE67. Presented March 19, 2013.
Gerry Gajadharsingh writes: I liked this one. When a patient is in a lot of pain and discomfort form an acute injury the tendency is to want to do as much as possible and sometimes this includes surgery. Interesting to know that actually waiting and following a conservative pathway can be as effective in certain conditions. ( By the way we are talking about knees)