Nightly News   |  December 26, 2013

Common knee surgery may not alleviate pain

A new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found arthroscopic partial meniscectomy may not be necessary or even effective for most patients. NBC’s Ron Mott reports.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> as we said before the break there is important medical news tonight that involves one of the most popular knee surgerieses in america. for a lot of people living with knee pain it seems there is no choice but to go under the knife. for one knee ailment in particular, doctors say surgery might not be necessary for some patients. we get our report from nbc's ron mott.

>> gently give that a little pull.

>> reporter: jessica is two months into rehab for knee surgery to repair a torn meniscus. she's happy with the results.

>> i definitely feel it worked. it's been a hard time recovering.

>> reporter: she had an acute injury from yoga but researchers question whether the operation called arthroscopic partial miniscectomy is necessary. there was a unique set-up. patients going in were not aware of whether doctors performed the full surgery or a sham surgery, simulating without repairing damaged tissue. patients got the same post on care and after a year researchers found both groups showed the same level of improvement.

>> ultimately this helps us select patients more carefully.

>> reporter: surgeon dr. scott rodeo treats olympic and professional athletes. so someone has knee pain. it seems the natural instinct is surgery. are we finding that's unnecessary as a first step?

>> often times as a first step it's not necessarily the best way to go.

>> reporter: the meniscus is a shock absorber between the knee joints. when it is torn doctors can remove some of the tissue to alleviate pain. but surgery may not be for those who have normal wear and tear. for them routine exercises to strengthen the knee might eliminate the need for surgery.

>> every exercise and activity should be individuallized to that individual. generally speaking if your knee hurts during the activity, you shouldn't do it.

>> reporter: new questions whether a common knee surgery is the best solution for patients. ron mott, nbc news, new york.