Many Americans find themselves facing the various pains of arthritis. What some may not realize, however, is that one-third of people over 50 suffer from some degree of a torn meniscus, the crescent-shapes cartilage that cushions the knee, and that pain is often mistaken for a result of arthritis. People who tear their menisci are generally given the choice between physical therapy and surgery, but unless the tear is very severe, physical therapy is often just as effective a solution for an injured knee as surgery, and is significantly less costly.
At a time where we are most concerned with instant gratification, many people don’t have the patience to dedicate themselves to a physical therapy regimen. It is often suggested that patients begin with therapy before jumping straight onto a surgeon’s table, but many feel discouraged by their lack of immediate results, and resort to surgery to appease their pain.
In a recent study, researchers from a number of universities and orthopedic surgery centers organized suffers of arthritis and meniscus tears into different recovery groups; half immediately underwent surgery, while the other half began physical therapy. After six months, both groups showed comparable progress and pain ratings. 30% of the people who began physical therapy did not wait the six months, and had surgery because they were unsatisfied with the progress they were making in therapy, but their results were no better than the people who had surgery right away nor the people who stuck with therapy.
Dr. Jeffrey Katz, a joint specialist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, explains that the cost of therapy is usually about $1,500, whereas surgery to repair the same injury could cost $5,000, showcasing the tremendous difference in cost between the two methods of repair. “It would be quite reasonable to try physical therapy first,” says Katz, “because the chances are quite good that you’ll do quite well.”
There are no “quick fixes,” in medicine or life in general, so if you’re suffering from an injured knee, don’t dismiss therapy for surgery too quickly, because surgery will require lengthy rehabilitation, too. If your injury isn’t severe enough to demand surgical repair, it would be worthwhile to consider the benefits of physical therapy—while it may feel like your recovery is taking some time, you will complete your therapy course not only feeling better physically, but you’ll feel good about the accomplishments you’ve made and of your inner strength and perseverance.