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Do You Need a Meniscus Surgery? What to Expect?


The knee consists of two bones (shinbone, thighbone) that meet together to form the knee joint. These two joints are surrounded by several ligaments to keep them stable and separated by a thickened cartilage called meniscus. 

The meniscus is located in between the two bones of the knee joint. It provides a smooth surface to reduce friction, thus allowing the joints to move with ease. So when the meniscus gets torn, it can cause stiffness and swelling in the knee and pain during motion.  

There are several treatment options to manage a meniscus injury, such as medications, therapy, or surgery. But when should you consider a meniscus surgery, and how is it performed?

When do you need a meniscus surgery?

Meniscus injury may occur during contact sports, traumatic accidents, or due to old age. Not all meniscus tears require surgery right away. Some doctors may try conservative methods first, such as NSAID drugs, physical therapy, and knee injections. However, your orthopedic surgeon may opt for a meniscus tear surgery instead when:

  • Your symptoms persist despite non-surgical treatment
  • Your meniscus injury is severe or Grade 3.
  • Your activity level and lifestyle can worsen the damage if it’s not surgically repaired.
  • You  have related injuries (e.g., cruciate ligament tear)

Doctors perform meniscus surgery to repair a torn meniscus cartilage, trim it, or remove a severely damaged one. They may also do it arthroscopically for a less invasive operation that results in a quicker recovery.

According to studies, arthroscopic meniscus repair has a high success rate and results in a positive outcome in 90% of patients. Additionally, opting to do surgical repair or remove a torn meniscus also decreases your likelihood of developing arthritis.

How to prepare before meniscus surgery?

Before the surgery, your physician may order a few tests, such as a chest X-ray and blood tests, to determine if you’re healthy enough for surgery. They will also review your medical history to avoid complications during the procedure. 

Here are some of the important things you should prepare for to have a hassle-free surgery day:

  • Tell a loved one or friend to accompany you or drive you home after the surgery.
  • Disclose every medical information to your doctor, such as the medications you’re currently taking, past operations, and underlying conditions.
  • Buy all the medications prescribed by your doctor beforehand, so you don’t have to worry about them while recovering.
  • Get yourself fitted for crutches because you will need them during recovery. You should also book your physical therapy appointment days before your surgery.

What happens during a meniscus tear surgery?

Your orthopedic specialist will decide what type of anesthesia you should receive, whether local, regional, or general anesthesia. Regardless, each one will help you relax and feel comfortable throughout the procedure.

An arthroscopic meniscus surgery usually lasts about 30 minutes to an hour, depending on the severity of the condition. 

It starts by creating 2-3 small incisions in the affected knee, which will serve as the entry portal of the specialized instruments. Next, they will fill the knee joint with sterile fluid to remove any debris so that your surgeon will have a great view of the meniscus injury. 

The surgeon will insert an arthroscope (small camera) into the knee area. This video camera will project a live feed of the inside of the knee onto a monitor. Once they see the injury, they will then proceed to perform the surgical technique needed, such as:

  • Arthroscopic repair – if the tear is mild and reparable, your surgeon will try to stitch it up and fix the cartilage.
  • Partial meniscectomy – your surgeon may trim the injured meniscus and leave the healthy, undamaged part of the cartilage in place.
  • Total meniscectomy – for severely damaged cartilage, your surgeon will need to remove the entire meniscus to relieve your symptoms and avoid further knee joint damage.

Once done, your orthopedic surgeon will stitch up the incisions and cover them with a bandage.

What to expect after the surgery?

After the anesthesia wears off, you may be discharged right away to continue your recovery at home. It’s normal to feel tired after the surgery. You will also feel numbness, swelling, and mild pain on the operated knee, which may be relieved using pain medications prescribed by your doctor. Some after-care information you may need to do to improve recovery include:

  • RICE (rest, ice, compress, elevate) technique for three days or more.
  • Using crutches or knee brace for 2-6 weeks
  • Pain medications
  • Physical therapy and rehabilitation
  • Home exercises
  • Incision care as instructed by your doctor.

You may return to work and day-to-day activities after 6 to 8 weeks. But if your job requires you to be on your feet or do physical tasks, you’ll need at least 3 to 6 months of rest before returning.

It’s also important to attend follow-up appointments with your doctor to ensure a smooth and efficient recovery.

How long is recovery after meniscus surgery?

The length of recovery usually depends on the type of surgery performed on you. For partial or total meniscectomy, recovery only takes about a month. But for meniscus repair, it will take at least three months to achieve full recovery. 

When should you call your doctor?

Arthroscopic meniscus surgery rarely has any complications. However, you should contact your physician if any of these conditions happen:

  • A high-grade fever (101 F or higher)
  • A lot of blood draining from the incision site.
  • Pus oozing from the incision site.
  • Pain and swelling that doesn’t get better with medications or the RICE technique.
outpatient surgery center

Where to find an outpatient surgery center for meniscus surgery?

If you’re currently suffering from a painful meniscus tear that doesn’t go away, then our Raleigh orthopedic surgeons have your back. 

Raleigh Orthopaedic Surgery Center is both the largest and most modern ambulatory surgery facility in Eastern North Carolina to specializes exclusively in orthopaedics. Our patients receive outstanding patient satisfaction, superior clinical outcomes and reduced costs. Call Raleigh Orthopaedic Surgery Center at 919-719-3070 for more information.

The material contained on this site is for informational purposes only and DOES NOT CONSTITUTE THE PROVIDING OF MEDICAL ADVICE, and is not intended to be a substitute for independent professional medical judgment, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers with any questions or concerns you may have regarding your health.