Meniscus injuries are among the most common knee injuries in the U.S., often resulting in a painful, swollen knee or the feeling that the knee catches or locks. When deciding how to treat your torn meniscus, you and your doctor will consider many things such as your age, lifestyle, severity of injury, location of the tear and pain level. Depending on these factors, your treatment options may include:
- Physical Therapy
Meniscus injuries can often be managed by controlling the pain and swelling, as well as possibly working with a physical therapist to restore full knee strength and mobility. Your therapist or physician may recommend ice and compression and provide you with a special at-home exercise regime, or may use a treatment called neuromuscular electrical stimulation (NMES) to help improve your strength. Medications like aspirin and ibuprofen may also be recommended to reduce pain and swelling.
The two most common injections that can be helpful in reducing inflammation within the joint are cortisone injections and hyaluronic acid – originally derived from the combs of roosters – which can lubricate the knee joints and provide short-term relief. While injections temporarily reduce pain, they will not help heal the meniscus tear.
- Stem-Cell Therapy
Researchers have been developing stem-cell therapies that may help heal the injured tissue. During treatment, stem cells from your own body or some other source are injected into the injured knee area, where they grow, differentiate and assist with the healing of the meniscus. Keep in mind that while this type of therapy is promising, it is relatively new and is still considered experimental in some countries. As such, most insurances won’t cover the cost, and it is unknown if this will be a long-term cure or how long the effects will last.
- Meniscus Surgery
If an injury is severe or if symptoms persist after nonsurgical treatment, many turn to surgery to repair a meniscal tear: a partial meniscectomy if the meniscus can be trimmed (or removed) or a meniscus repair if the tear can be sewn together. While meniscus surgery remains one of the most common orthopedic procedures performed in the U.S., several recent studies have shown that surgery to repair a torn meniscus may not offer any benefit or pain reduction over physical therapy. In addition, those who undergo these surgeries have a much higher probability of getting a total knee replacement in their lifetime.
The NUsurface® Implant is the world’s first medial meniscus replacement. As an alternative to knee replacement, the implant – which is made of medical grade plastic and inserted into the knee through a small incision – has seen great results in Europe and Israel. While it’s not meant to take the place of a total knee replacement later in life, it may serve as an opportunity to help treat knee pain and keep patients active until much more invasive knee surgery is a viable option – while potentially reducing the need for second knee replacement surgeries later in life.
With proper diagnosis, treatment and rehabilitation, patients who suffer from a meniscus injury or tear are often able to return to their pre-injury abilities. If you have questions about the best course of action for your knee pain, schedule an appointment with your physician to discuss what’s right for you.