What is the meniscus?
The meniscus is the shock absorber of the knee joint. There are two crescent shaped menisci in the knee – one on the inside (medial) and outside (lateral) of the knee joint. They sit on top of the shinbone (tibia) and their function is to protect the cartilage lining the knee joint, by absorbing forces through the knee during walking, running and sports.
How does the meniscus get injured?
Acute meniscal tears occur most often from twisting knee injuries during sports which require sudden changes in direction such as football, basketball and rugby. Meniscal injuries are common. In older patients, degenerative meniscal tears occur in older patients with minimal injury.
How do I know when I have injured my meniscus?
If you injure your meniscus playing sport, you will often feel a ‘pop’ and sudden pain in your knee. Sometimes you will be able to continue playing and only hours later will the knee swell up. I see patients with meniscal injuries who cannot fully straighten or bend their knee joint (so called ‘locked’ knee), as the torn ends of the meniscus get stuck in between the thigh bone and shin bone, which can be very painful.
How will the surgeon assess my knee?
Through taking a careful history (asking relevant questions) and a thorough examination of the knee joint. You may be asked to undergo an X-ray and MRI scan of your knee joint.
Will I need surgery?
It depends. If you cannot fully straighten or bend your knee (“locking” of the knee joint), have severe pain, or have injured other structures in your knee like a ligament (ACL) then you may benefit from surgery.
What kind of surgery will I have?
All surgery is minimally invasive and performed under anaesthesia (you will go to sleep during the operation). The surgery is performed through 2 – 3 small keyhole incisions at the front of the knee. Certain types of tear can be repaired (meniscal repair) whilst others required the torn part to be removed (partial meniscectomy). Both methods have good to excellent results. Surgery usually takes under an hour and most patients can go home on the same day.
What is the recovery like?
You may need crutches and a brace for several weeks. The surgical incisions take 2 weeks to heal. Most people can return to work after 2 weeks depending upon their job. You will need to follow a program of physiotherapy to strengthen your knee. Most can return to sports after 12 weeks, depending upon the sport and level of competition.
Dr Alan Cheung is a Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon specialising in the treatment of sports injuries such as torn ligaments and tendons, fractures and sprains, cartilage injuries, and even bone cancer. He is skilled in minimally invasive joint reconstruction and the use of advanced robotic surgery (Makoplasty, Navio and Robodoc) for better surgical outcomes and reduced downtime.