Arthroscopic knee surgery in middle-aged or older patients with knee pain is associated with greater harm than good, according to a meta-analysis.

The analysis of nine randomized, controlled trials in 1,270 patients of arthroscopic surgery involving partial meniscectomy, debridement, or both showed a small but statistically significant benefit from the procedure – comparable to the pain-relieving effects of paracetamol – but which falls below significance after 12 months.

However, there were no significant improvements in knee function, and there were significant increases in the risk of deep vein thrombosis (4.13 events per 1,000 procedures) as well as infection, pulmonary embolism, and death, according to the paper published online June 16 in BMJ.

“Thus, middle-aged patients with knee pain and meniscal tears should be considered as having early-stage osteoarthritis and be treated according to clinical guidelines for knee osteoarthritis, starting with information, exercise, and often weight loss,” wrote Dr. Jonas B. Thorlund of the University of Southern Denmark, Odense, and coauthors (BMJ 2015, June 16 [ doi:10.1136/bmj.h2747 ]).

The study was supported by the Swedish Research Council. One author declared personal fees from several pharmaceutical and medical companies and relevant journal editorship, while another declared fees from lectureships and books.