Arthroscopic Partial Meniscectomy Versus Physical Therapy for Degenerative Meniscus Lesions: How Robust Is the Current Evidence? A Critical Systematic Review and Qualitative Synthesis


      The purpose of this systematic review was to investigate study quality and risk of bias for randomized trials comparing partial meniscectomy with physical therapy in middle-aged patients with degenerative meniscus tears.


      A systematic review of Medline, Embase, Scopus, and Google Scholar was performed from 1990 through 2017. The inclusion criteria were at least 1 validated outcome score, and middle-aged patients (40 years and older) with a degenerative meniscus tear. Studies with a sham arm, and acute and concomitant injuries were excluded. Risk of bias was assessed with the Cochrane Risk of Bias Tool. The quality of studies was assessed with the Cochrane GRADE tool and quality assessment tool (Effective Public Health Practice Project). Publication bias was assessed by funnel plot and Egger’s test. The I2 statistics was calculated a measure of statistical heterogeneity.


      Six studies were included, and all were assessed as having a high risk of bias. There was no publication bias (P = .23). All studies were downgraded (low, n = 5; very low, n = 1). The Effective Public Health Practice Project assessed 1 study as strong, 2 as moderate, and 3 as weak. The overall results demonstrated moderate to low quality of the included studies. The I2 statistic was 96.2%, demonstrating substantial heterogeneity between studies.


      The results of this systematic review strongly suggest that there is currently no compelling evidence to support arthroscopic partial meniscectomy versus physical therapy. The studies evaluated here exhibited a high risk of bias, and the weak to moderate quality of the available studies, the small sample sizes, and the diverse study characteristics do not allow any meaningful conclusions to be drawn. Therefore, the validity of the results and conclusions of prior systematic reviews and meta-analyses must be viewed with extreme caution. The quality of the available published literature is not robust enough at this time to support claims of superiority for either alternative, and both arthroscopic partial meniscectomy or physical therapy could be considered reasonable treatment options for this condition.

      Level of evidence

      Level II, systematic review of Level I and II studies.
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