Fear the Knife!

| Wed Jun. 1, 2011 12:01 PM EDT

Aaron Carroll writes today that modern American medicine is even worse than you thought. It turns out there's compelling evidence that arthroscopic knee surgery has no actual effect, but doctors keep doing it anyway. We could save money by just making a fake incision in your knee and doing physical therapy instead.

This made me wonder if I've been the victim of this dramatic placebo effect, since I had arthroscopic surgery on my knee about a decade ago and it worked great. But I guess not. My surgery was to repair a torn meniscus, and a torn meniscus is probably a very real thing. The useless variety of knee surgery is arthroscopic lavage, which is apparently a procedure that cleans out random crud from around your knee. Turns out the crud didn't need to be removed, though. All these knees needed was ordinary physical therapy, which they'd get along with the surgery anyway.

Aaron's point about this isn't just that this is a pretty amazing result, but that it's been largely ignored by both doctors and patients. Doctors still want to cut into knees and patients still want their knees cut into. Who wants a bunch of crud floating around in there, after all?

But now you know. If your doctor recommends arthroscopic lavage in the future, you're going to turn it down. Right?

Right?

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