What causes a meniscus tear?
By definition, a meniscal tearis a tear that occurs in the cartilage of the lower leg between the femur and tibia bones. This cartilage, or menisci, acts as a shock absorber and provides stability. The menisci also help to distribute body weight evenly by preventing bones from rubbing together. Meniscal tears are more common in people over the age of 30 and occur from sudden twisting motion. Often, these tears are the result of a specific injury, such as while playing sports. In other cases, osteoarthritis may also be to blame.
When is repair needed?
Immediately after the tear, treatment focuses on rest and reducing inflammation. The standard RICE method applies; rest, ice, compression, elevation. When the damage is severe, however, surgerymay be the best treatment option for returning to full function.
What happens during surgery?
During arthroscopic surgery, the surgeon will diagnose and possibly repair the meniscal tear. In some cases, the damage may be so severe that the meniscus needs to be removed instead of fixed. If possible, the surgeon may repair the tear during the diagnostic arthroscopy. Commonly, the surgeon may remove part of the damaged meniscus, allowing the healthy tissue to remain intact. The majority of the time, this type of surgery is performed on an outpatient basis, which means patients can return home the same day.
How long until I’m recovered?
Patients should allow at least 2 weeks of recoveryto participate in physical therapy and return to some activity. The length of the recovery period depends on the extent of the injury and repair. Some patients may need 6 weeks in a knee brace or on crutches.
The importance of physical therapy
Recovery after a meniscal tear occurs in phases. A physical therapy plan is optimized to help patients recover effectively. In the first phase, patients may still be using crutches. Exercises focus on helping patients regain balance and coordination. Second, after patients are no longer using crutches, physical therapy focuses on restoring range of motion and strength. The third phase involves the patient returning to normal activity. The length of time patients take to reach phase 3 will vary based on the injury and the patient’s health and physical fitness.
Return to normal activity.
No one wants to get a knee injury. Fortunately, with an effective treatment plan, patients can heal from meniscal tears and return to normal activity. Speak with an orthopedic surgeon to learn more about meniscal repair options and knee surgery.