Do I Need Surgery for a Meniscus Tear?

You have two C-shaped discs of cartilage (soft tissue) that connect your thighbone to your shinbone. These are called menisci. They’re like shock absorbers for your bones. They also help to keep your knee stable.

Athletes who play contact sports like football and hockey are prone to meniscus tears. But you can also get this injury when you kneel, squat, or lift something heavy. The risk of injury increases as you get older, when bones and tissues around the knee begin to wear down.

If you tear your meniscus, your leg might swell and feel stiff. You might feel pain when twisting your knee, or be unable to straighten your leg fully.

What Are My Treatment Options?

Treatment for a meniscus tear will depend on its size, what kind it is, and where it’s located within the cartilage. Most likely, your doctor will recommend that you rest, use pain relievers, and apply ice to you knee to keep the swelling down. He may also suggest physical therapy. This will help to strengthen the muscles around your knee and keep it stable.

If these treatments don’t work -- or if your injury is severe -- he might recommend surgery. To be sure, your doctor will probably have an MRI done. And he might look at the tear with an arthroscope. That’s a thin tool that has a camera and light at the end. It allows doctors to see inside your joints.

If your doctor’s exam shows your meniscus tear is mild (Grade 1 or 2), you may not need surgery. If it’s Grade 3, you probably will. Your doctor might choose to do any of the following:

  • Arthroscopic repair. Your doctor will make small cuts in your knee. He’ll insert an arthroscope to get a good look at the tear. Then he’ll place small devices that look like darts along the tear to stitch it up. Your body will absorb these over time.
  • Arthroscopic partial meniscectomy. Your doctor will remove a piece of the torn meniscus so your knee can function normally.
  • Arthroscopic total meniscectomy. During this procedure, your doctor will remove the whole meniscus.

Meniscus repair is low-risk. Complications are rare. They may include injury to skin nerves, infections, and knee stiffness. Your doctor may prescribe antibiotics to help stave off infection. He may also recommend compression stockings to help prevent blood clots.

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How Long Is Recovery?

You may have to wear a brace or cast to keep your knee stable. You’ll likely also have to use crutches for at least a month to keep weight off your knee.

Your doctor may recommend physical therapy as part of your recovery. It’ll help increase your range of motion and help your knee get stronger. He may also share some exercises you can do at home.

If you have a partial or total meniscectomy, you can expect your recovery to take about a month. If your meniscus was repaired, it may take as long as 3 months.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on January 12, 2017

Sources

SOURCES:

KidsHealth.org: “Meniscus Tears.”

Mayo Clinic: “Torn Meniscus.”

American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: “Arthroscopy.”

Cedars-Sinai: “Repairing Torn Meniscus.”

Department of Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine, University of Washington: “Torn Meniscus,” “Arthroscopic Meniscus Repair,” “Meniscectomy.”

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