Stiffness and swelling, pain and tenderness in and around the knee are the symptoms of the more than 9 million Americans with osteoarthritis and a fear for many active adults.
Each year, over 510,000 people in the United States undergo arthroscopic knee surgery for injuries such as meniscus tears and osteoarthritis. Another common ailment many seek a surgical answer to is spinal stenosis, the narrowing of the spinal canal which causes pain due to the compression of the spinal cord and nerves.
For these types of conditions, many patients are immediately prescribed surgical solutions as the first line of treatment. This mind set can cost thousands of dollars and months of recovery time. Recent studies suggest that surgery may not be the most appropriate treatment for many physical injuries and conditions.
A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, for example, concludes that physical therapy alone works just as well as surgery for torn knee cartilage.
In the study, 351 patients with osteoarthritis and meniscal tears underwent one of two treatment programs – half receiving surgical repair followed by physical therapy rehabilitation and the other half completing a six-week physical therapy exercise program aimed at strengthening support muscles, easing inflammation and improving range of motion.
After six months, participants who received only the physical therapy treatment reported similar or better improvements in knee function and pain than those who received surgery and therapy. The research proves that a comprehensive physical therapy exercise program alone is just as effective as surgery and may be a more reasonable and less costly first approach.
So before undergoing the risk of complications and substantial costs of surgery, consult with a physical therapist to develop an individualized treatment program when faced with injuries. The vast benefits achieved with physical therapy can help prevent and recover from injury by improving balance, range of motion, strength, and flexibility.