If you are an athlete, fitness buff, construction worker, or home repair do-it-yourselfer, your knees take a beating. After years of wear and tear on your knees, you might develop pain and swelling that don't go away with rest and over-the-counter pain relievers. When this pain prevents you from playing your sport, doing your job, or participating in the activities you love, it's time to get to the root of the problem and find out if you are a candidate for meniscus repair surgery.
What Does the Meniscus Do?
The menisci are two C-shaped pads of cartilage that cushion the knee joint. Intact padding is essential for smooth, pain-free movement in the knee. The meniscus can be torn in a sports injury with a sudden twist or turn or with impact to the knee in a fall or collision with another player. When this happens, the athlete often feels a pop in the knee but might not feel pain for a few days. These traumatic injuries are common in soccer, tennis, and football players. More commonly, meniscus tears are caused by degeneration over time in people who put a lot of strain on their knees. Advanced age and excess weight are contributing factors to degenerative meniscus injuries. When the tissue is torn or degraded, you lose the cushioning between the bones, and movement becomes painful. In some cases, pieces of cartilage can dislodge and impede the movement of the knee, causing the knee to lock up.
Symptoms of a Damaged Meniscus
There are many potential causes of knee pain, from osteoarthritis to a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), and symptoms can overlap. The first step in resolving your pain and immobility is to get the correct diagnosis. Common symptoms of a torn meniscus include:
- Pain with rotating or twisting the knee
- Swelling and stiffness in the knee
- Feeling like your knee is locking in place
- Weakness and instability in the knee joint
- Trouble fully straightening the knee
In the early stages of meniscus damage, rest, ice, and pain relievers might be sufficient to get you back on your fee. However, when the knee starts catching or locking up, it's time to see an orthopedic specialist for a diagnosis and treatment plan.
How Is Meniscus Damage Treated?
Once your doctor has confirmed—by process of elimination or, in some cases, with an MRI scan—that the cause of your pain is meniscus damage, you will get a treatment plan that starts with the most conservative measures first. This might include avoiding the activity that causes you pain. For example, you may no longer be able to run long distances for exercise or play a weekly game of tennis. You might also be given exercises to stretch and strengthen the muscles around the knee.
If the pain and stiffness prevent you from normal walking or performing your job, the next step in the treatment plan might be meniscus surgery. The surgical procedure that is performed will depend on the nature and extent of the damage, but there are generally two options:
- Repair. If you have tears along the outer edge of the meniscus, your orthopedic surgeon might be able to suture the tissue back together using an arthroscopic procedure. This is only possible, however, in areas of the meniscus that get good blood flow to promote healing. Recovery from a repair can take anywhere from three to six months.
- Removal. If repair is not possible, your surgeon might opt to remove the damaged part of the meniscus to alleviate pain and prevent loose pieces of cartilage from affecting the knee joint. Recovery from a meniscectomy is faster than after a repair. Most patients are back on their feet in three to six weeks.
Your path to recovery starts with an evaluation by an orthopedic knee surgeon.
What Are Your Treatment Options? Contact Northwest Extremity Specialists
If your knee pain is caused by meniscus damage, the skilled orthopedic surgeons at Northwest Extremity Specialists will develop a treatment and recovery plan to ensure the best possible outcome. Call us today at 503-245-2420 to make an appointment in the Portland-area office closest to you.