Arthroscopic Knee Surgery: Tiger Woods, Yes. You? Maybe Not

Craig Stoltz Health Guide
  • News that golfer Tiger Woods has undergone arthroscopic knee surgery sent me running to my research notes. I knew arthroscopic surgery--where a doctor uses a scope and tiny tools to remove damaged cartilage or do other things inside the knee joint to relieve pain--has been proven ineffective. Was Tiger being subjected to worthless surgery?

     

    The answer: No

     

    Three things you need to know:

     

    1. An important study published in 2002 in the New England Journal of medicine did indeed show that arthroscopic "debridement" [removal of debris in the knee joint] was no better for pain or movement than placebo surgery. [Yes, they really did placebo surgery.]

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    2. But the study was done on middle-aged people with at least moderate  osteoarthritis, not athletes or people with other kinds of knee injuries. The findings have no bearing on the use of arthroscopic surgery for torn cartilage, ACL injuries, and so on. And as expected, the findings are disputed by doctors who perform the surgery for arthritis.

     

    3. If you're considering arthroscopic surgery for osteoarthritis of the knee, be sure to discuss the New England Journal study results with your doctor. No single study should drive a clinical decision. Unique individuals have different disease states and injuries. As with any surgical recommendation, seek a second opinion before going under the knife (or 'scope, in this case). Check out our information on osteoarthritis treatment.

     

    Oh, and Tiger? Follow his recovery on the official Tiger Woods web site. And we'll see how that knee is holding up about six weeks from now.

Published On: April 21, 2008