Tears of the rubbery meniscus in the knee can be quite painful and may lead to instability of the knee joint. The meniscus is a piece of fibrocartilage that rests between the bones of your knee and makes a smooth cupped surface for the ends of your knee bones to glide over.
Arthroscopic meniscal surgery is a procedure that allows your doctor to learn more about the extent of your injury and to make repairs to the tissues. Traumatic injury to the knee from over twisting or direct falls may damage the meniscus and cause instability, pain, and swelling.
Some meniscal tears can be treated by rest, ice, compression, elevation, and taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatories. More severe meniscal tears, however, may require arthroscopic meniscal surgery for exploration and repair of the tissue.
Arthroscopic surgery is a type of procedure that allows your doctor to examine the inside of your knee joint, remove extra tissue that may cause pain, and to make small repairs. Arthroscopy may be able to repair the knee without the need for open knee surgery, which would result in a larger incision and longer recovery time.
This type of surgery is very safe and is done during the day, so you won't have to stay overnight in the hospital. Be sure to arrange for a friend or family member to drive you home and assist you for a few days after your surgery.
You will be given an anesthetic to help numb the area around your knee joint before the procedure. Talk with your doctor about the type of anesthetic you will receive. Your orthopaedic surgeon will then use an arthroscope to look inside your knee. An arthroscope is an instrument about the size of a pencil with a tiny camera at the end. The camera takes a video of the inside surfaces of the knee and your doctor watches the images on a monitor in the surgery room.
Using an arthroscope, your orthopaedic surgeon can learn about your injury and decide if the meniscus can be mended or if it should be removed. In a few cases, small instruments can be used during the arthroscopy procedure to repair areas with smaller tears. This type of repair only takes a few weeks for recovery. Most commonly, though, the part of the meniscus that is torn will need to be removed. If part of the meniscal tissue needs to be removed, it may take from 2 to 6 months for a complete recovery.
You will probably go home the same day of your surgery. Your doctor will probably have you stay on crutches for several days in order to limit your activity and weight bearing on the knee. Keep your knee elevated to reduce swelling. When you are in bed, you may use a rolled up towel or pillow under your knee to help keep the knee elevated. To help reduce pain, use ice packs around your knee 3 - 4 times a day for about 20 minutes at a time.
Your doctor may recommend that you begin a rehabilitation program to help stretch out your knee and to help build up the surrounding leg muscles to reduce the risk of re-injury. Swimming and other non-impact sports are excellent ways to keep in shape during your recovery time. Talk with your doctor about when you can return to your regular activities.
The vast majority of meniscus repair surgeries are without any problems. All surgical procedures requiring anesthesia carry some risk; talk with your doctor about the type of anesthesia you will have. Other very rare complications include infection, nerve injury, increased weakness or instability, and pain.