Tips on Myths and Facts

Dr. Kevin Plancher

Typical signs of a torn meniscus include pain, stiffness or swelling in the knee that gradually worsens over days.

There’s no mistaking the negative effects a tear in the knee’s meniscus – the C-shape of cartilage cushioning the space between the thighbone and shinbone – can wreak on patients’ daily lives. But a swirl of myths surround surgery to repair or remove the meniscus, can blur patients’ ability to decide whether this treatment may be right for them, says orthopaedic surgeon Kevin D. Plancher, MD, founder of Plancher Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine.

More than 400,000 surgeries to remove or repair a torn meniscus took place in the United States between 2005 and 2011, according to a 2013 study in the American Journal of Sports Medicine. Meniscus tears are common for good reason: There’s double the opportunity to injure the meniscus, since two such cartilage pads are located in each knee joint, Dr. Plancher says. Tears stem from several causes, including sports injuries involving squatting and twisting motions, such as a football tackle or sudden basketball pivot; trauma such as car crashes; excess body weight, which strains the entire knee; and aging, which weakens and thins knee cartilage over decades due to less lubrication in the knee.

Symptom severity ranges from patient to patient, but typical signs of a torn meniscus include pain, stiffness or swelling in the knee that gradually worsens over days. Some patients feel a slipping or “popping” sensation in the knee, notes Dr. Plancher, also a Clinical Professor in Orthopaedics at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York.

Conservative treatments are almost always tried first after a meniscus tear — including rest, ice, compression or physical therapy – but if a patient doesn’t experience symptom or pain improvement or can’t straighten the knee, surgery may be considered to either repair or remove part of the meniscus.

Tips on Truth vs. Fiction about Meniscus Surgery

In addition to normal concerns about surgery, those facing a meniscus operation often aren’t privy to correct information about the surgery itself and whether meniscus repair or removal is advised. Dr. Plancher, who lectures globally on issues related to orthopaedic procedures and sports injury management, offers these myths and facts about meniscus surgery:

Myth: The surgeon always knows before meniscus surgery whether the meniscus needs to be repaired.

Fact: Sometimes surgeons must visualize the inner knee at the start of the procedure before a final determination can be made whether repair is possible or a piece of the meniscus must be removed. Among other factors, the decision is also based on the…

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