Meniscus Tear Surgery

A torn meniscus is one of the most common types of knee injuries that affect nearly one million people in the United States every year. The meniscus is a fibrocartilage structure located between the thigh and shin bones that provides stability and shock protection to the knee. When a meniscus tears it can cause pain, instability, and swelling, and may require surgical treatment in order to fully heal. There are also different types of meniscus tears to be aware of that vary, depending on the impact and the severity of the tear and the symptoms that may be experienced. If you are experiencing sudden weakness or pain in the knee, Monterey Spine & Joint can diagnose if you have torn a meniscus and also offer the best treatment plan needed to provide a full recovery. 

What does the meniscus do?

The meniscus is a c-shaped cartilage-like structure that adds padding between the bones located in the knee joint. This pad performs multiple functions. First and foremost, the meniscus acts as a cushion that prevents the bones from grinding against one another, which can lead to damage. The meniscus also helps to evenly distribute the weight of your upper body across the knee joint when you stand up, walk, or run. With a torn or weakened meniscus, the weight can become unevenly distributed, which can then lead to discomfort or injury. 

Diagnosing a torn meniscus

If you are experiencing knee pain and think you might have a torn meniscus, your doctor will run an X-ray and MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) to determine the type of tear that you may have, as well as where it is located. The X-ray will first help to determine if there is any damage or fracturing of the bones around the knee joint that may be causing pain and discomfort. Your doctor will also ask about the nature of your discomfort during the course of a physical examination. 

Symptoms of a meniscus tear

Symptoms of a torn meniscus usually involve pain directly in the knee. Typically, this pain will be felt on the inner or outer side of the knee but not around the kneecap. Depending on the severity of the tear, you may not experience any discomfort while performing normal functions like walking or standing. Rather, pain is often felt while turning or pivoting the knee when walking up stairs or getting out of a car, as two examples. Pain that’s felt when straightening the knee can also be a sign of a torn meniscus. 

Types of meniscus tears

There are two main types of meniscus tears that can occur. The first is a “traumatic” tear, which is often associated with a sports injury. The second is a “degenerative” (or “atraumatic”) tear, which is from wear and tear and occurs more commonly among older people. Studies have shown that there is a biological difference between traumatic and degenerative tears, as traumatic meniscus tears will show a higher inflammatory response. Your treatment will largely depend on the type and severity of the tear you have. 

Traumatic tears

Traumatic tears are most often caused by some type of sports injury which are the results of a hard and sudden twisting or jerking of the knee. Physical exercise that’s especially demanding, such as squatting, can also lead to a traumatic tear.

Degenerative tears

A degenerative meniscus tear is usually caused by age and wear and tear. Untreated degenerative meniscus tears are among the more common causes of arthritic knee pain in older adults. A degenerative tear can be harder to identify because it is more gradual, and will lead to increased pain over time. Some people may experience little-to-no pain at all, despite having experienced a degenerative meniscus tear. 

Some common causes of a degenerative meniscus tear may include: 

  • Tightness of the lower limb muscles
  • Obesity
  • Poor fitness or physical activity
  • Weakness in the muscles of the thigh and bottom
  • Overexertion

Treatment Options

Depending on the type and severity of the tear that you have experienced, you may opt for non-surgical treatment options or surgical meniscus treatment. Should you have a traumatic tear, or severe degeneration of the meniscus, non-surgical treatment may not be an option. You may also elect for surgical treatment if the resulting pain from the tear is becoming disruptive to normal activities. 

Can the meniscus heal on its own?

Most meniscus tears cannot heal without surgical treatment. This is because blood that would normally help in the repairing process only reaches part of the meniscus. Tears that happen on the outer one-third of the meniscus receive blood flow that contain nutrients to aid in healing. The inner portion of the meniscus receives little-to-no blood flow and therefore there are no nutrients to singularly repair the tear.

Non-surgical meniscus tear treatment

Conservative, non-surgical treatment options of the meniscus may first rely on pain management and inflammation of the knee. Over-the-counter medications, such as ibuprofen, can help for early treatment. Physical therapy exercises can aid in strengthening the muscles around the knee while also helping restore range of any motion that may have been lost. If your meniscus tear is degenerative, it is important to note that further degradation can occur over time and surgical treatment may be necessary in the future. 

Surgical meniscus tear treatment

If your degradation is severe, or you suffer a traumatic tear, surgery may be necessary in order to restore full functionality to the knee as well as alleviate pain and other symptoms. A “knee arthroscopy surgery” is the most common type of operation that’s chosen in these cases. Knee arthroscopy surgery utilizes a specialized camera and surgical tools which create minimally invasive incisions that can then carefully trim or suture the meniscus. A camera at the end of the tool enables the surgeon to see inside the incision and carefully perform either operative procedure that’s needed. 

Another option is “meniscus transplant surgery” (or “meniscectomy”). If the damage to the meniscus is too severe, your doctor may recommend a total meniscectomy. This involves the complete removal of the meniscus, which leaves no cushioning between the shin and thigh bones. Meniscus transplant surgery uses a donor meniscus and is much less invasive than a total knee replacement. 

You may not be a candidate for a meniscus transplant if there is too much damage to the surrounding bone. Severe arthritis of the knee can also prevent you from being a candidate for a meniscus replacement.

Recovery

A full recovery from meniscus tear surgery usually takes approximately six-to-ten weeks. During that time, you must be sure to follow all instructions and take any prescribed medications that your doctor may provide. Rest, ice, and elevation are also crucial during recovery. Pain is to be expected after the surgery is performed, but it should subside within a few weeks. Medication prescribed by your doctor can help to manage symptoms of pain. Lastly, it is okay to return to light activity after about six weeks following the surgery. You should of course speak with your doctor about your recovery before taking on more intense activities, such as lifting heavy weights or running. 

If you think you have experienced a meniscus tear or have pain in your knees, reach out to Monterey Spine & Joint to receive a proper diagnosis and treatment. Monterey Spine & Joint provides a team of meniscus tear specialists to help aid you in your diagnosis, surgery, and recovery, and to ultimately improve your physical condition so that you will feel better than before.