Repairing a Torn Meniscus: What to Expect

A meniscus tear is one of the most common cartilage-related injuries of the knee, which causes a lot of pain and can hamper your ability to move considerably. The meniscus is a strip of cartilage that supports and stabilizes knee joints. It forms a soft barrier between the bones of the joint to reduce wear and tear. Unfortunately, this cartilage is quite fragile, and just a small twist can tear it. The injury is prevalent among those who play football, soccer, and volleyball regularly.

What Does a Torn Meniscus Feel Like?

You will feel a distinctive popping sensation when you sustain the injury, which will be followed by a wave of pain and intense swelling. Most patients find it difficult to bend or straighten their leg, and sometimes the joint can become locked up. Some athletes ignore the injury and keep on playing, which can worsen the problem quickly. If you experience a sudden discomfort in your knee, visit a doctor immediately.

The doctor will take x-rays and MRIs to understand the extent of the injury. X-rays will help spot broken or fractured bones while an MRI will provide information about the cartilage.

What is the Treatment?

A torn meniscus can heal without assistance if the injury is located in the outer portion. This area is called the ‘red zone’ and it receives a lot of fresh blood supply, which means it receives ample healing nutrients. If the tear in this area is small enough, you only need to rest your leg to recover fully.

However, if the injury is in the ‘white zone,’ it won’t heal on its own. This area doesn’t receive much blood supply or healing nutrients. If the tear is large enough and causes mobility issues, you will need surgery. Here’s a look at the treatment options:

Minor Meniscus Tears

If the tear is minor, you need to rest your knee as much as possible. Avoid walking on the leg and use crutches if needed. Ice your knee for 15 to 30 minutes at a time for 2 to 3 days. Icing once every 3 hours will help bring down the swelling and reduce pain. Wrap a compression bandage around the knee to control the swelling and lower the pain. It is a good idea to keep the knee elevated as much as possible and take anti-inflammatory medicine.

Once you have sufficiently recovered, start doing stretching and strengthening exercises to remove stiffness and reduce stress on the joint. Experts encourage hiring a professional physical therapist to avoid additional strain.

Surgical Repair

There are three approaches to a severe meniscus tear: you can repair it, remove it, or replace it. The doctor will recommend a surgery based on the intensity of the injury and your current health. Replacement is usually an option for younger, more active patients, while removal is the right choice for older ones.

Most patients choose arthroscopic meniscus repair, which has a long recovery time but better long-term results. Patients need to understand that they might not even be able to start on physical therapy until six weeks after the surgery.

This surgery is an outpatient procedure and lasts around 1 to 1.5 hours. Patients can rest in the recovery room for a couple of hours before going home. The knee will be placed inside a brace to keep it stable. Patients will need to keep the brace on for several days after the procedure. Doctors will prescribe pain killers and medication to reduce inflammation. Patients need to keep their knee straight, reduce the swelling, and gain control over the muscles that support the joint. They can start on physical therapy after the brace is removed.

For more information on meniscus tears, contact Dr. Stacie Grossfeld and the Orthopaedic Specialists of Louisville, Kentucky at 502-212-2663.