A meniscus tear is a common injury to the cartilage that stabilizes and cushions the knee joint. Whether or not your tear can be repaired depends on the type of the tear. Radial tears sometimes can be repaired, depending on where they are located. Horizontal, flap, long-standing, and degenerative tears—those caused by years of wear and tear—generally can't be repaired.
Your doctor will suggest the treatment that will likely work best for you based on the zone where the tear is, the pattern of the tear, and how big it is. Your age, your health, and your activity level may also affect your treatment options. In some cases, the surgeon makes the final decision during surgery, when the surgeon can see how strong the meniscus is, where the tear is, and how big the tear is.
Meniscus repair is usually done with arthroscopic surgery. Your doctor puts a lighted tube and scope, called an arthroscope, with other surgical tools through small cuts (incisions) in your knee. Sometimes a larger incision is also needed. The surgeon repairs the meniscus using sutures (stitches) or anchors.
Other knee injuries—most commonly to the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL)—may occur at the same time as a torn meniscus. In these cases, your surgeon will repair your torn meniscus, if needed, at the same time ACL surgery is done.
What To Expect
Your doctor will probably put a brace on your knee right after surgery. It may keep your knee completely straight, or it may be a little bent. You may not be allowed to put weight on your leg. You will need crutches.
Over time, you will be able to put more weight on your leg and will be able to do more. It will be several months before you are able to do things like run and squat.
You will start physical therapy right away. How soon you can get back to walking, driving, and doing more vigorous activities will depend on your success in rehab.
When you can go back to work will depend on your pain and the type of work you do. It could be a few days to a few months.
How long recovery may take
Surgery to repair a torn meniscus involves rehabilitation. But rehab varies depending on the injury, the type of surgery, and your doctor's preference. In general, meniscus surgery is followed by a period of rest, walking, and selected exercises.
Every recovery is different and depends on many things. But here are some typical times for returning to activities.
Meniscus repair surgery
Bear weight (put weight on your knee while standing or walking)
Right away, as tolerated
0 to 6 weeks
Walk without crutches
2 to 7 days
4 to 6 weeks
Drive, if the affected leg is to be used for gas and brake or for clutch
1 to 2 weeks, if:
4 to 6 weeks
Regain full range of motion
1 to 2 weeks
Motion is typically restricted for first 4 to 6 weeks to allow the meniscus to heal.
Return to heavy work or sports
4 to 6 weeks, if:
3 to 6 months
Why It Is Done
Meniscus repair surgery is done to try to reduce pain and improve the function of your knee. It's also done when your doctor thinks repair will work better than rehab. Doctors often try to repair the meniscus rather than removing it. Meniscus removal (meniscectomy) increases your risk of arthritis later in life.
How Well It Works
The goal of a meniscus repair is to reduce your pain and improve your knee function. Also, you may be able to prevent long-term complications (such as osteoarthritis).
Successful repair of meniscus tears depends on the size, location, and cause of the tear. Tears that are located near the outer edge of the meniscus have a good blood supply and heal better. Those near the center don't heal as well. Small tears heal better than large ones. Tears caused by sudden trauma heal better than tears caused by wear and tear.
If you have a tear caused by an injury and your surgeon recommends repair, you will probably be able to return to your normal sports and daily activities.
Risks of the surgery itself aren't common. But they may include:
- Damage to nerves or blood vessels around the knee.
- Blood clots in the leg.
- Risks from anesthesia.