Treating a Meniscus Tear: When Is Knee Surgery Your Best Option?

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The meniscus is the cartilage that acts as a cushion within your knee, and is comprised of medial and lateral aspects. Meniscal tears are quite common, particularly as patients grow older. While some tears may not require surgical intervention, it’s important to know when surgery is the best option to prevent further knee problems.

What is a Meniscus Tear?

A meniscus tear occurs when the rubbery disc that distributes body weight equally across the joint undergoes stress or sudden impact. If this disc becomes torn, it can prevent normal function and induce pain and inflammation.

What Causes a Meniscus Tear?

In many cases, a meniscus tear is caused by turning or twisting when the knee is flexed and the foot is planted. Lifting something very heavy or engaging in sports can also result in a tear. The meniscus gets worn as you age, and can increase your risk of tearing.

What are the Symptoms?

In most cases, the very first symptom you’ll notice when you tear the meniscus is a sharp pain accompanied by locking and catching of the knee. It may feel as if the knee is getting stuck while walking or moving from a seated position to a standing position. Swelling often occurs, and pain in the back of your knee may also occur.

Types of Meniscus Surgery

While some meniscus tears don’t require treatment, if you do need surgical intervention, there are several types of surgical options available, including:

  • Repair – A meniscus repair surgery involves sewing the tear together, and it’s always a better option to fix the meniscus if possible. A repair can reduce the risk of joint problems in the future.
  • Remove – A meniscus removal surgery involves removing the entire meniscus, while a partial removal may only remove the torn area of the meniscus. Surgeons generally avoid removing the entire meniscus, since it does increase the risk of knee osteoarthritis.

Surgery Factors

Several factors that can determine whether you’re a good candidate for surgical intervention and the type of surgery you’ll require, including:

  • Small Tear – If you only have a small tear that’s 5 mm or smaller, then it’s very likely that the tear will heal on its own, depending on its location. Physical therapy and a brace for temporary immobilization may be used.
  • Age Factor – Age is also a factor when determining if you need surgery. Younger patients are more likely to have the meniscus heal on its own, and often have better outcomes with a meniscal repair.
  • Where is the Tear? – The location of the tear can determine the type of surgery you need. For tears on the outer edge of your meniscus, a repair surgery can be an excellent choice, since these tears usually heal well after surgery. Tears that spread into the inner two-thirds of the meniscus may not heal well if they are repaired and a partial meniscectomy may be needed.
  • What Kind of Tear? – The type of tear or its shape can determine if you need surgery and what type of surgery you need. Longitudinal tears are usually much easier to repair than radial or flap tears.
  • How Did the Tear Occur? – Tears that occur due to a sudden injury generally have clean edges that are easier to repair versus those that occur due to wear and tear over time, which can cause the meniscus to be ragged and thin.

Reasons Your Doctor May Recommend Surgery

  • You continue to have pain after trying other more conservative treatments, such as physical therapy or rest
  • It may help lower your risk of future knee joint problems
  • You’re very active, and the meniscus tear is in the red-to-white zone, and surgery will help return the knee to normal
  • The knee doesn’t work properly and “locks up”

Why O’Grady Orthopaedics?

At O’Grady Orthopaedics, Dr. Christopher O’Grady offers comprehensive care for patients suffering from meniscal tears. He’s skilled in surgical intervention and will work with you to find the best solution to get you back to your normal lifestyle. If you have the symptoms of a torn meniscus, make your appointment for a consultation today.