Do You Need To Have Surgery For a Meniscus Tear?
Is The Meniscus Tear a Common Injury?
Meniscus tears are a fairly common injury, both in athletes, weekend warriors, and even regular folks doing everyday things. And from golfers to skiers to football players, this c-shaped piece of cartilage known as the meniscus is crucial.
Why? Because the meniscus acts as a "cushion" for the knee joint.
Is Surgery Necessary for Meniscus Tear?
We've established that meniscus tears are a fairly common orthopaedic injury. But do they require surgery?
We've got a few options when it comes to treating meniscus tears. Though you may have heard that surgery is the only option, that's not always true. The meniscus may heal by itself.
Let's go over some of the possible scenarios here today.
Meniscus Tears Don't Always Need Surgery
Meniscus tears don't always need to be surgically repaired. But, many times, we recommend that they get fixed surgically.
The trick with a meniscus tear is that you might have the injury, without the symptoms.
There are plenty of cases when a meniscus tear is present, but the injured athlete doesn't even suspect they have an injury.
The Risk Of Meniscus Tears Increases With Age
It's probably no surprise to you that our meniscus undergoes a degenerative process, much like other parts of our human body. Blood flow to the meniscus may slow, and a degenerative meniscus will typically become weaker and more prone to injury.
This is why we sometimes see meniscus injuries in sports like golf with what seems like very little impetus.
Our own Dr. Bill Sterett has joked that a golfer who has been playing for years with no major injury may tear his or her meniscus by just bending down to pick up a ball from the hole! This demonstrates that years of being active, coupled with a natural degenerative effect can take a toll on our cushion cartilage.
A torn meniscus that has become degenerative may display a frayed quality that makes it more difficult to fix.
Younger Meniscus, Easier to Fix
Younger folks, in most cases, haven't experienced the degenerative effect that aging has upon the meniscus. We are talking here about people in their teens and twenties.
The fact that they haven't had the degeneration combined with wear and tear makes them more responsive to surgical repair.
Where is the Tear?
Tears located in the center portion of the meniscus can be less prone to heal on their own, because of lower blood supply as compared to the tears to the edges of the meniscus.
This is why a "full tear" of the meniscus may be more problematic.
Stability of a Meniscus Tear
Stability of the tear is an important factor to evaluate as we consider whether a meniscus tear is surgical or not. Partial tears are more stable than tears that go all the way through the meniscus. Even so, we may have to examine the tear on a case-by-case basis before making the call. Surgery is often the way to stabilize the tear and give you a maximum chance for a full recovery.
Factors that Help Meniscus Tears Heal On Their Own
Several factors allow a meniscus tear to heal by itself, without surgery.
We want to see a good blood supply to the meniscus, allowing the tissue to heal.
The tissue itself must be fairly healthy. And third, there must be a baseline level of stability that will support the healing of the meniscus.
Seeing A Specialist is Your Best Bet To Determine if You Need Surgery For A Torn Meniscus
Dr. Rick Cunningham, Dr. Bill Sterett, and Dr. Terrell Joseph are all fellowship-trained to deal with major knee injuries.
As with many orthopedic injuries, your injury will be unique, and therefore we recommended being evaluated by a specialist. Sometimes, a torn meniscus is not the only injury that you've sustained to the knee joint.
Skiers, for instance, often injure the ACL and the meniscus at the same time. And one of the reasons that we often recommend surgery for a torn ACL is to prohibit further damage to the meniscus. Without this crucial cushion cartilage, your risk of knee arthritis rises dramatically.
If you think you've torn your meniscus, get into a specialist to have it looked at. And click below to learn more about our sports medicine experts.