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Meniscectomy for a Meniscus Tear

Surgery Overview

Meniscectomy is the surgical removal of all or part of a torn meniscus. A meniscus tear is a common knee joint injury. Surgeons who perform meniscectomies (orthopedic surgeons) will make surgical decisions based on the meniscus's ability to heal as well as your age, health, and activity level.

Your doctor will likely suggest the treatment that he or she thinks will work best for you based on where the tear is, the pattern of the tear, and how big it is. In some cases, the surgeon makes the final decision during surgery, when he or she can see the how strong the meniscus is, where the tear is, and how big the tear is.

Meniscus surgery is usually done as arthroscopic surgery. Your doctor uses a lighted tube called an arthroscope, or scope. The doctor puts the scope and other surgical tools through small cuts in your knee.

What To Expect

Rehabilitation (rehab) varies depending on the injury, the type of surgery, your surgeon's preference, and your age, health status, and activities. Time periods vary, but meniscus surgery is usually followed by a period of rest, walking, and selected exercises. Most people who have arthroscopic meniscectomy can bear weight a day or two after surgery and can return to full activity within 2 to 4 weeks. After the full range of motion without pain is possible, you can return to your previous activity level.

How soon you can walk, drive, and do more vigorous activities will depend on the type and extent of the surgery and your success in rehab.

How long recovery can 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.

Time needed to return to activities

Activity

Uncomplicated meniscectomy

Meniscus repair surgery

Bear weight (put weight on your knee while standing or walking)

Right away, as tolerated

Right away, but only with a brace

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:

  • You have regained motion with minimal pain.
  • You are not taking opioids.

4 to 6 weeks

Regain full range of motion

1 to 2 weeks

Bending is typically restricted to not more than 90 degrees for first 4 to 6 weeks to allow the meniscus to heal.

Return to heavy work or sports

4 to 6 weeks, if:

  • You have regained motion and strength.
  • Your knee is not swollen or painful.

3 to 6 months

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Why It Is Done

If a meniscus tear is causing pain or swelling, it probably means that torn pieces of the meniscus need to be removed. The edges will be surgically shaved to make the remaining meniscus smooth. Your surgeon will try to preserve as much meniscal tissue as possible. This can help prevent long-term degeneration of your knee and allow you to return to full activities.

To decide whether to remove all or part of your meniscus, the doctor will look at the location, length, tear pattern, and stability of the tear as well as the condition of the whole meniscus. Your surgeon will also consider the condition of the entire knee, your age, and any age- or injury-related degeneration.

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How Well It Works

Removing the whole meniscus generally reduces some symptoms. But losing the meniscus reduces the cushioning and stability of the joint. Most people, especially if they are young or active, aren't satisfied with a total meniscectomy. This is why surgeons try to remove as little of the meniscus as they can.

Studies of partial meniscectomy have shown that 78% to 88% of people have good results. This means that 78 to 88 out of 100 people who have this surgery have decreased symptoms and are able to return to most or all of their activities.footnote 1

Risks

Meniscectomy usually doesn't cause complications. But there is a risk of damaging the nerves during surgery.

There is a direct link between the amount of meniscus tissue that is removed and the load distribution across the knee. If more tissue is removed, the knee is less able to sustain the load of walking, running, or other activities. With uneven load distribution, degeneration of the knee joint may happen sooner than it would with an intact meniscus.

In any surgery, there is risk of infection or bleeding. And there are risks with general or regional anesthesia.

References

Citations

  1. Beynnon BD, et al. (2010). Meniscal injuries. In JC DeLee et al., eds., DeLee and Drez's Orthopaedic Sports Medicine: Principles and Practice, 3rd ed., vol. 2, pp. 1596–1623. Philadelphia: Saunders Elsevier.

Credits

Current as of: July 1, 2021

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:
William H. Blahd Jr. MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Patrick J. McMahon MD - Orthopedic Surgery