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Why Would I Need Knee Surgery For My Meniscus?

February 12th, 2011

The human knee is among the most complex joints in the body, as well as the largest. It can be damaged through injury, disease, or wear. One common injury is a torn meniscus. Meniscal (cartilage) tears can during activities of daily living and work, but more frequently with sporting activities in weekend warriors as well professional athletes.

Knee Meniscus Surgery - Tear

The knee joint is formed by three bones: the femur, or thighbone; the tibia, or shinbone; and the patella, or kneecap. In between the femur and the tibia lie two shock absorbing wedges of cartilage, called the menisci. These are comprised of a rubbery material and not only cushion the knee but help it maintain stability. Most often, when an individual refers to a torn knee cartilage, they mean the meniscus.

The meniscus can be torn in several different locations. Tears are denoted by their appearance and the position of the tear within the meniscus. Common references include the flap, longitudinal, parrot beak, transverse, and complex tears. The tear may happen in conjunction with another knee injury, such as a ligament tear. However, in older patients, the tear may result from a meniscus that has thinned and weakened over time. If the cartilage is sufficiently degenerated, a patient may experience a tear just from arising awkwardly from a seated position.

Patients with a torn meniscus normally experience pain in the knee, swelling and stiffness. The knee may “catch” or lock, or it may feel as if it is about to buckle. Motion may be restricted as well. Left untreated, a piece of the cartilage can come free and migrate to the joint, causing slippage or locking of the knee.

The need for knee surgery meniscus depends on the size, location, and type of the tear, but should be decided based on the patient’s symptoms. The outer third of the menisci receive an excellent blood supply. Tears in this area are normally easily repaired through surgery if they do not heal without it. However, the rest of the meniscus does not have a blood supply, meaning that tears will not heal. Tears in this area are frequently in worn, thin cartilage

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. Since tears cannot mend, they are normally trimmed during surgery.

Surgeons may recommend knee surgery meniscus if the patient’s symptoms do not abate with conservative treatments. The procedure is normally performed through a minimally invasive surgery, or arthroscopy. This is among the most frequently performed surgeries, and carries a minimal risk of infection as well as minimal scarring.

After knee surgery for meniscal tears, the patient usually does not need a cast or brace to immobilize the joint. Braces may be used after a meniscal repair for 4-8 weeks. Most patients will a period of therapy or rehabilitation. The majority return to the activity level enjoyed prior to the injury. Typical results include reduction or elimination of pain, increased stability of the knee, and a reduction or elimination of swelling.

I hope that helps you better understand knee surgery for the meniscus!

Until next time,


About the Author: Dr. Stuart Gold, M.D. is a board certified orthopedic surgeon who has 23 years experience specializing in sport injuries, joint replacement, arthritis and limb salvage. As the Director of the Orthopedic Institute, Dr. Gold recently published The Patient's Guide To Orthopedic Surgery to help patients better understand the challenges, risks and opportunities of orthopedic care.

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