This systematic review evaluated the effectiveness of exercise therapy in patients with meniscal lesions. Nine databases were searched up to July 2015, including EMBASE and Medline OvidSP. Randomized and controlled clinical trials in adults with traumatic or degenerative meniscal lesions were considered for inclusion. Interventions had to consist of exercise therapy in non-surgical patients or after meniscectomy, and had to be compared with meniscectomy, no exercise therapy, or to a different type of exercise therapy. Primary outcomes were pain and function on short term (≤3 months) and long term (>3 months). Two researchers independently selected the studies, assessed the risk of bias, and extracted data.
Of the 1415 identified articles 14 articles describing 12 studies were included; all had some concerns about the risk of bias. There was no significant difference between exercise therapy and meniscectomy for pain (MD 0.27 [-4.30,4.83]) and function (SMD -0.32 [-0.68,0.03]). After meniscectomy, there was conflicting evidence for the effectiveness of exercise therapy when compared to no exercise therapy for pain and function. There was no significant difference between various types of exercise therapy for pain (MD 19.30 [-6.60,45.20]) and function (SMD 0.01 [-0.27,0.28]).
Exercise therapy and meniscectomy yielded comparable results on pain and function. Exercise therapy compared to no exercise therapy after meniscectomy showed conflicting evidence at short term, but was more effective on function at long term. The preferable type/frequency/intensity of exercise therapy remains unclear. The strength of the evidence was low to very low.