Cartilage is a substance that can take a lot of abuse over a lifetime. But it’s still sometimes vulnerable to injury or deterioration.
Athletes who play contact sports are particularly at risk for tears in the pad of cartilage that protects the knee joint, known as the meniscus. When meniscus tears, it can be treated nonsurgically in some cases, but other cases require surgery.
4 factors that can determine if you’re a candidate for surgery
If you have a torn meniscus and wonder if meniscus repair surgery is right for you, here are 4 factors that can determine the answer:
1. Is it a small tear and you’re young?
Meniscus tears that are less than 5 mm stand a good chance of healing on their own, especially if you’re a younger patient. Rather than having surgery, your doctor may recommend you wear a brace for a few weeks to keep the knee immobile and undergo some physical therapy.
2. Where is the tear?
The location of the tear can affect whether or not a surgical repair will be successful. For example, tears toward the outside of the c-shaped meniscus tend to heal better because there are more blood vessels there.
Also, menisci come in pairs, and each knee has a lateral (outer) and medial (inner) meniscus. The inner meniscus can be easier to repair because tendons and other soft tissues make the outer meniscus more difficult for a surgeon to access.
3. What kind of tear is it?
The shape of the tear can play a role in surgical considerations. For example, a longitudinal tear (in which there’s a straight or curved tear inside the meniscus but the outer layer is still intact) is easier to repair than a radial tear (which cuts across the meniscus from the inside to the outer part) or a flap tear (in which an upper section of the meniscus pulls away and causes a loose flap).
4. How did the tear happen?
A meniscus tear that occurs as the result of a sudden injury tends to have cleaner, more “repairable” meniscus edges compared with a tear resulting from wear and tear over time, in which the meniscus may be more thin and ragged.
In addition to repairing the meniscus, surgeons can also simply remove a piece of damaged cartilage. This is known as a meniscectomy. If the patient with a meniscus tear is young and active, the surgeon will try to perform a repair rather than a meniscectomy, when possible.
Talk with your doctor if you have questions about treating your meniscus tear. Every patient is different, and you can work together to determine the treatment plan that’s right for you.