Millions of Americans suffer from joint pain everyday. Osteoarthritis, meniscus tears, and overuse are some of the most common causes of knee pain that I see on a weekly basis at Roxboro Physical Therapy. Some patients opt to have surgery to help improve the pain in their affected knees. However, according to research published by the respected New England Journal of Medicine, physical therapy can be just as effective in providing pain relief as surgery (read the full research article here.) Despite this research, many patients continue to have costly, avoidable knee surgeries, amounting to millions of dollars spent per year.
Here are some specifics from respected articles supporting the notion that physical therapy and exercise can be suitable alternatives for knee pain:
First, a double-blind study conducted in 2002 on arthroscopic knee surgery. 180 patients participated in the study and were assigned to three different groups. One group had a “sham surgery” where cuts were made in the patients’ knees to look like they had undergone a full surgery. A second group actually received the full surgery. And a third group had a partial surgery. After 8 weeks there was no discernible difference in subjective measures of pain. Even at follow-ups one and two years later, there were no differences in the reported pain or ability to perform daily functions. (Source: New England Journal of Medicine, 2002 July 11; 347 (2): 81-8)
Another study conducted in 2007 used 56 patients with a common cause of knee pain, chronic patella-femoral syndrome. These patients were split into two groups, one group had surgery and 8-weeks of exercise and the other group only completed 8-weeks of exercise. Again, there were no discernible differences up to two years after the study was complete. (Source: BMC Medicine 2007, 5:38)
Both of these studies suggest that, for some patients, exercise can be a suitable alternative to knee surgery. Furthermore, these studies provide support for my opinion, which is that surgery should be the last option, and that pain-free living does not require assuming the risks involved with major surgery.
With most types of injuries, especially joint pain, exercise is a must. To my knowledge, the notion that exercise has a detrimental affect on your joints has never been confirmed and is a common misconception. On the contrary, numerous research studies have proven that exercise can have a positive impact on your joint tissues. In fact, if you combine the weight loss affects of exercise along with the increased compressive and tensile forces on bone, the benefit becomes exponential. Maintaining a healthy body weight decreases the risk of developing knee pain secondary to osteoarthritis. Exercise also improves bone density and joint function, decreasing the risk of osteopenia and osteoporosis, therefore reducing the risk of fracture as we age. Along with improvement in joint pain, exercise has many other physiological and psychological benefits. Some of these include improved cardiopulmonary health, decreased cholesterol, improved circulation, increased energy, and a better self-image.
If you are interested in finding out if physical therapy can help reduce your knee pain, please contact the outpatient physical therapy clinic most convenient for you.
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