3 Treatment Options & Life After a Meniscal Tear

March 10th, 2014

 Think for a moment about your day up until this point. What kind of activities have you been involved in? What sort of tasks have you accomplished? You may feel like you’ve had a relatively unproductive day so far or maybe you’re reading this at 6:30 in the morning and you just haven’t had time to do much of anything yet. Regardless of how early it is or whether or not you’ve made it to the gym yet today, there is one part of your body that has already gotten a workout!

Knees: We Need ‘Em!
So many of your everyday activities - even the simplest movements - depend on the strength and flexibility of your knees. And your knee joints themselves, in order to function properly, depend on the shock absorbency of a material called fibrocartilage. This fibrocartilage makes up an important part of the knee’s support system - the meniscus. When a patient experiences a meniscal tear, they lose an important contributor to the protection, stability and strength of the knee.
Did you know that a significant percentage of your body weight is supported by the meniscus as you perform everyday functions, such as:
  • Standing up from being seated at your desk
  • Walking the dog
  • Getting in and out of vehicles
  • Squatting down to pick up the newspaper
In fact, if you’ve gotten out of bed yet today, you owe your ability to do so partially to the health of your meniscus! 
While it is most common to see meniscal tears occur in active individuals that participate in sports and high impact activities, a tear can also happen in the midst of a simple walking step. Many patients describe the injury as a “popping” or “catching” of the knee.
3 Treatment Options for Meniscal Tear Patients
1. Monitored Non-Intervention: While this is not exactly a proactive treatment, it is the best options for a small number of individuals who have suffered from a minor tear. For example, if the tear is small and located in the periphery of the meniscus, some young patients may be able to recover from the injury by resting and simply allowing the tear to heal on its own. Or, for some older patients, who have only sustained minor damage and who are not generally mobile, the condition may best be left untreated as it could end up being asymptomatic anyway.
2. Surgical Repair: In most cases, the meniscus will not heal on its own and surgery is required. The good news is that modern medicine allows for advanced arthroscopic views of the knee, which provide surgeons with the information they need to make the best decision about how to address the problem. If at all possible, it is preferable to attempt a meniscal tear repair, in which the knee is stitched from the inside out.
3. Surgical Removal: A less ideal, but often necessary option is removal of part of the meniscus. Upon observing the internal condition of the knee, a surgeon may decide that the meniscus is so badly torn, it is best to simply remove the damaged fibrocartilage. The surgeon will then remove as little as possible, while attempted to clean out the area (including having to sometimes remove bone fragments and repairing other cartilage damage) and leave behind the remainder of the meniscus, which can then continue to serve the patient as a now stable surface to once again protect the knee joint.
Life After Meniscal Tear Surgery
The surgical process to fix this issue is a quick, 30 minute, outpatient procedure. Following surgery, if the patient undergoes a meniscal repair with stitches, a knee brace is worn during the day for at least six weeks. If the meniscal tear is trimmed and no stitches are placed, then no knee brace is required. Assuming the patient performs the post-op therapy recommended by the physician, there is a very high success rate and long-term results from meniscal tear surgery. If addressed in a timely and proper manner, meniscus injuries should not keep patients from getting back to the normal activities and sports they love!
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