What is a meniscus?
Three bones meet to form your knee joint: your thighbone (femur), shinbone (tibia), and kneecap (patella). The meniscus is two wedge-shaped pieces of cartilage that act as “shock absorbers” between your thighbone and shinbone. They are known as the lateral meniscus and the medial meniscus. They are tough and rubbery to help cushion the joint and keep it stable.
What causes damage to a meniscus?
Menisci tear in different ways. Sudden meniscus tears often happen during sports. Players may squat and twist the knee, causing a tear. Older people are more likely to have degenerative meniscus tears because the cartilage weakens and wears thin over time. Aged, worn tissue is more prone to tears. Just an awkward twist when getting up from a chair may be enough to cause a tear, if the menisci have weakened with age.
Tears are noted by how they look, as well as where the tear occurs in the meniscus. Common tears include bucket handle, flap, radial, or just worn out from degenerative changes. Sports-related meniscus tears often occur along with other knee injuries, such as anterior cruciate ligament tears.
Symptoms of a torn meniscus are:
- Stiffness and swelling
- Catching or locking of your knee
- The sensation of your knee “giving way”
- You are not able to move your knee through its full range of motion
How is a meniscus repaired?
The meniscus can be repaired arthroscopically. Knee arthroscopy is one of the most commonly performed surgical procedures. In it, a miniature camera is inserted through a small incision (portal). This provides a clear view of the inside of the knee. Your orthopedic surgeon inserts miniature surgical instruments through other portals to trim or repair the tear.
- Partial Meniscectomy. In this procedure, the damaged meniscus tissue is trimmed away.
- Meniscus repair. Some meniscus tears can be repaired by suturing (stitching) the torn pieces together. Whether a tear can be successfully treated with repair depends upon the type of tear, as well as the overall condition of the injured meniscus. Because the meniscus must heal back together, recovery time for a repair is much longer than from a meniscectomy.
What to expect with physical therapy after surgery?
Your rehabilitation will depend on the type of surgery you had. You may not need a lot of formal Physical Therapy after a partial meniscectomy. Most patients can do their exercises as part of a home program. If you require outpatient Physical Therapy, you will probably need to attend therapy sessions for about two to four weeks. You should expect full recovery to take up to three months.
Many surgeons have their patients take part in formal Physical Therapy after meniscal repairs. The first few Physical Therapy treatments are designed to help control the pain and swelling from the surgery. Then we will progress you to doing more functional exercises to improve your strength and stability for daily activities following specific protocols and working with your surgeon.
Although recovery rates vary, patients sometimes resume sport activities within four to six months after surgery to repair the meniscus.