Because the pain of a torn meniscus can linger for months after the surgery, patients are now asking: Did the meniscus surgery really work? A meniscal tear is probably one of the most common ailments plaguing young and old, male and female, alike. Those who are among the 700,000 plus people who recently underwent meniscus knee surgery, are not only asking, “Did the meniscus surgery really work,” but they also want to know, “Was it a mistake to have such an operation?” Both are legitimate questions, especially if one doesn’t feel a significant difference in post-op knee-pain relief.
Each year thousands of people suffering from meniscal tears undergo a surgical procedure called arthroscopic meniscectoscopy knee surgery to shave torn cartilage and repair the meniscal tear. The surgery is intended to relieve the chronic knee pain and swelling associated with a meniscal tear. If successful, the benefits of the hour-long (in most cases) meniscus knee surgery can last a lifetime, and patients can once again, walk, run and strut, without the agony of knee pain. But for those who don’t fair as well, they must continue to endure the clicking, swelling, aching, chronic knee pain that is associated with a meniscus injury, leaving them to continually ask: Did the meniscus surgery really work?
What is the meniscus?
The meniscus is the disk-shaped cartilage that stabilizes the knee joint, It is located between the shin and thigh bones, and acts like a cushion or shock absorber for the knee.
What is a meniscus tear?
A meniscal tear is when one or more of the fibro-cartilage strips in the knee called menisci is ruptured. Meniscal tears are often accompanied by degenerative wear and tear (arthritis) due to aging, or stress mainly caused by sports related injuries.
What is an arthroscopic meniscectomy?
When anthroscopically repairing the meniscus, the surgeon makes a very small incision in the knee and inserts a blade. This technique allows the surgeon to repair the tear by shaving the frayed edges of the meniscus.
Although meniscal tears are very common and their repair can be done with the precision accuracy of anthroscopic surgery, the surgery does not work for everyone. Many patients who undergo the procedure continue to experience worsening and painful knee problems over a period of time. For some patients, meniscal surgical recovery may take approximately 3-4 months with minimal or no post-op problems. While others, such as athletes who suffer with degenerative knee problems and patients over the age of 35, may need a longer recovery time.
Physical therapy is a must for patients who have undergone meniscus surgery. Applying the RICE principle to the inflamed area, coupled with muscle strengthening exercises and aquatic therapy, can greatly expedite the healing process. Because inflammation, swelling, and stiffness often occur after surgery, the use of anti-inflammatory medication, crutches, or a knee brace may be needed.
Physical therapy is usually started after the patient’s first post-op visit with the orthopedic surgeon. Though it should be challenging, physical therapy should not be too aggressive. Aggressive therapy will do more harm than good and may actually hinder the patient’s recovery time.
Because the meniscus has very little blood flow, a meniscal tear my not heal on its own without surgery. Unfortunately for many patients, the pain they experience prior to meniscus surgery still lingers, often becoming worse post-surgery. This is partly due to intra-articular joint swelling, which may take some time to subside. Recent studies have shown that more and more surgical candidates are rethinking surgery and taking a look at physical therapy as a first option in pain relief.
Because of the hundreds of thousands surgeries performed each year, meniscus surgeries have become a growing-and-growing-and-growing business (err…procedure). The medical costs can range from $3,000 to $30,000, depending on who performs the surgery, where it’s performed, and the complexity of the surgery. This results in billions of dollars being made each year by the medical industry from a small piece of cartilage.
Whether pondering to have, or not to have, meniscus surgery, or simply at home convalescing with friends, ask the question: “Did the meniscus surgery really work?” It is also important to take cues from the body, especially after surgery. Hobbling and wobbling from place-to-place can be painful, and if not careful, can mean a trip to the hospital in no time. When it works, meniscus surgery has it’s advantages. But when it doesn’t, more than likely the only one walking upright before, during, and after surgery will be the orthopedic surgeon on his way to the bank.
Opinion By DeBorah Heggs-Alston