How does surgery compare to sham surgery or physiotherapy as a treatment for tendinopathy? A systematic review of randomised trials.


Purpose To assess the effectiveness of surgery on all tendinopathies by comparing it to no treatment, sham surgery and exercise-based therapies for both mid-term (12 months) and long-term (> 12 months) outcomes.

Methods Our literature search included EMBASE, Medline, CINAHL and Scopus. A combined assessment of internal validity, external validity and precision of each eligible study yielded its overall study quality. Results were considered significant if they were based on strong (Level 1) or moderate (Level 2) evidence.

Results 12 studies were eligible. Participants had the following types of tendinopathy: shoulder in seven studies, lateral elbow in three, patellar in one and Achilles in one. Two studies were of good, four of moderate and six of poor overall quality. Surgery was superior to no treatment or placebo, for the outcomes of pain, function, range of movement (ROM) and treatment success in the short and midterm. Surgery had similar effects to sham surgery on pain, function and range of motion in the midterm. Physiotherapy was as effective as surgery both in the midterm and long term for pain, function, ROM and tendon force, and pain, treatment success and quality of life, respectively.

Conclusion We recommend that healthcare professionals who treat tendinopathy encourage patients to comply with loading exercise treatment for at least 12 months before the option of surgery is seriously entertained.

Download Abstract