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Arthroscopic Surgery for a Meniscus Tear: What to Expect

Most of us think of our knees in terms of the bony prominence (kneecap) that becomes even more prominent when we’re sitting or squatting. But the knee joint is much more complex. It contains tendons, ligaments, nerves, and cartilage, including two wedge-shaped pieces of cartilage called menisci.

Each meniscus protects the knee by cushioning it from extreme impacts, absorbing strain, and helping distribute force and weight across the joint. Although menisci are tough, they’re not impervious to injury. In fact, they can tear if the knee is twisted or subjected to extreme force or stress.

A leading orthopedic specialist in Vestavia Hills, Alabama, Thomas Powell, MD, uses state-of-the-art arthroscopic surgery to repair torn menisci in patients at Powell Orthopedics and Sports Medicine. Here, learn how meniscal tears happen and how arthroscopic surgery can help restore normal knee function following an injury.

How meniscus tears happen

About 12-14% of the population suffers from meniscus tears at some point, typically after an activity that subjects the knee to a lot of twisting and excess stress. Injuries can happen to anyone, but they tend to be especially common among people who do a lot of squatting or kneeling or among athletes who put a lot of strain on their knees. They’re also more common among males and people over age 40.

Most tears cause significant pain around the knee joint, with symptoms worsening when you bend or rotate your knee or put weight on the joint. Swelling, stiffness, and difficulty bending or straightening the knee are also common.

Like other knee injuries, a meniscus tear can range from mild to severe. Very minor, mild tears may be treated conservatively with rest, ice, anti-inflammatory medication, and physical therapy. However, moderate to severe injuries usually require surgery to repair the tear and restore normal joint function.

Arthroscopic repair: What to expect

Arthroscopic surgery is a minimally invasive type of surgery that uses very small incisions and special surgical instruments. One instrument, which is called an arthroscope, features a tiny camera that captures real-time, magnified, highly detailed images in and around the joint. These images are transmitted to a monitor, giving your surgeon a detailed view of the joint during the procedure.

Prior to inserting the scope, Dr. Powell administers fluid to your knee joint. The fluid helps gently widen the joint so it’s more visible during surgery. Next, he either sews together the ends of the meniscus to repair the tear or, more commonly, he removes the damaged part of the meniscus in a procedure called a meniscectomy.

Once the surgery is complete, Dr. Powell closes the incision with sutures or special surgical adhesives, then he covers your knee with a bandage. Complete recovery can take a few months, during which time physical therapy can help restore normal joint function.

Benefits of arthroscopy

Because it’s minimally invasive, arthroscopy offers several key benefits for patients, including:

Plus, arthroscopic meniscus repair is typically performed on an outpatient basis, so you can skip a lengthy hospital stay.

That said, there are times when an open approach to knee repair is preferable. This approach uses a larger incision for greater access to the joint and the structures that support it.

To learn more about meniscus repair and other advanced knee care options we offer, call 205-606-5232 or request an appointment online with Powell Orthopedics and Sports Medicine today.

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