For arthritis pain, nonsurgical procedures can be just as effective as total knee replacement

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Oct 22, 2015 06:10 AM EDT

(Photo : National Cancer Institute/ Wikimedia Commons)

While total knee replacement has been proven to relieve arthritis pain and improve overall knee function, patients should not rule out the possibility of undergoing nonsurgical treatments just yet.

According to a Reuters report, a new study revealed that a regimen comprised of a supervised dietary plan, exercise, use of insoles, pain medication, education, and physical therapy, is just as effective in treating the disease.  

"It won't do any harm trying the nonsurgical treatment," said Dr. Soren Skou of the University of Southern Denmark in Odense, the study's lead author. "I hope this will give a more balanced discussion of whether or not to have the surgery."

The team behind the study randomly assigned 100 patients suffering from moderate to severe knee arthritis to undergo total knee replacement and a nonsurgical regimen for 3 months or to a nonsurgical regimen only. The study measured symptoms, pain, and quality of life over a period of 1 year.  

"Until now, we have lacked rigorously controlled comparisons between total knee replacement and its alternatives," said Dr. Jeffrey Katz of Harvard Medical School in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Skou believes there is a need to do the study to give patients more treatment options. Total knee replacement is irreversible and can lead to complications such as deep vein thrombosis, or blood clots in the legs, severe infections, fractures in the surrounding areas, and knee stiffness.

Moreover, knee replacements do not last forever. Artificial joints also undergo wear and tear and must be replaced after 10 to 15 years. Doctors warn patients that the replacement might not be as strong as the first. At the very least, nonsurgical treatments could delay the need for surgery until it is absolutely necessary.

"People need to understand and respect that knee replacement is not without complication. Knee replacement is a big surgical procedure and there are risks associated with it," emphasized Dr. Andrew Pollak, chairman of orthopedics at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore.

Approximately 1 percent of patients die within three months of their surgery and 20 percent of those still experience pain 6 months after the procedure.

Ultimately, doctors advise that patients must consult their trusted health professionals to help them select the best course of treatment.

A U.S. National Hospital Discharge Survey reveals that by 2010, knee replacement became the leading inpatient procedure performed in adults 45 years old and above. More than 670,000 total knee replacements are done in the country annually, which translates to $36.1 billion in medical expenses. 

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