The story describes a treatment called “the iovera system” that uses extreme cold to deaden nerves in the knee and temporarily alleviate pain. We give the story credit for discussing costs — something 70% of stories we look at fail to do — but the piece provides no other useful information for a consumer to judge whether this therapy may be helpful for them. It relies strongly on personal anecdotes without discussing any possible risks associated with the treatment or referencing any studies about how effective the treatment might be. The story simply does not support the sweeping statement in the headline that the treatment “instantly relieves knee pain.”
Knee pain is fairly common, with the CDC reporting that between 37 and 48 percent of U.S. adults over 60 years of age have osteoarthritis in one or both knees. And that pain can be debilitating, often leading to surgery. The CDC reports that there were 719,000 total knee replacement surgeries performed in the U.S. in 2010. All of this means that there are a lot of people who are interested in new treatments to address knee pain.
The story notes that each treatment costs approximately $1,000, that most insurance companies do not cover the procedure, and that the treatments need to be repeated at least every six months.
The story does not quantify benefits at all, offering only qualitative evaluations from two patients and one doctor who performs the treatment.
The story’s claim that the pain relief lasts “up to six months” is also suspect. We could find no published data about this treatment, but according to the company website, a clinical study of the device has been performed. It found that “70% of patients reported their pain relief effect continuing for 2 months” and “45% reported their pain relief effect lasting for 3 months.” Although six-month results aren’t mentioned, one can presume that only a minority of patients would experience relief lasting that long. The story failed to provide this larger context.
The story does not address potential harms in any meaningful way. Harms are mentioned only once, when the doctor who performs the treatments says that it is “very safe.” Even the company website notes that common side effects include “local pain, crusting, pigmentation changes, bruising and tingling.”
The story does not cite any research on the device, and notes that the iovera treatment is “cleared by the FDA” without providing any explanation of what that means. Readers will likely assume that this means the device has been evaluated for safety and efficacy by the FDA, which is not the case at all. FDA “clearance” merely means that the device is “substantially similar” to some other device that’s already on the market, which is enough for the FDA to “clear” the device to be sold. The lack of supporting research may not be surprising, since the company behind the iovera system appears to have only begun recruiting participants for a clinical trial to evaluate its efficacy at addressing knee pain in October 2014.
In the first sentence, the story states that “most Americans have suffered minor to severe knee pain.” The story doesn’t explain where that number comes from, and it intimates that even occasional, minor knee pain may require medical treatment.
The only sources cited in the story are patients who have had a positive experience with the treatment and a doctor who offers the treatment in his practice. Having the sole medical voice come from an advocate for the treatment is problematic.
We’re looking for something positive to say about this story, so we’ll give credit for the mention of alternatives “such as physical therapy, surgery and medications.” We note, however, that these alternatives are not discussed in any detail and are not compared to the iovera system in any way — there is no comparison of how effective they are, how safe they are, or of how much they cost.
The story does not tell readers how widespread the treatment is or where it might be available. The only place readers will know the treatment is available is in one doctor’s practice in New York City. A glance at a corporate website showing where the iovera treatment is available shows that it is available at only a handful of practices in five states.
This product has undergone several iterations and has been cleared for use by the FDA for quite awhile. It was previously introduced as a treatment for wrinkles and is now being adapted for knee pain. The story doesn’t mention this.
While myoscience, the company behind the iovera system, has issued two news releases related to the treatment over the past year, this story does not appear to draw heavily from either of them. The story also quotes three sources not included in any of the releases.