If knee pain caused by a torn meniscus is affecting your quality of life, you are probably seeking the best treatment available so you can resume an active, pain-free lifestyle. One of the most common procedures in the U.S. to treat a meniscus injury is an arthroscopic meniscectomy – the surgical removal of all or part of a torn meniscus through small incisions on the knee.
While more than 700,000 partial meniscectomies are performed in the U.S. every year, that doesn’t necessarily mean this procedure is right for everyone who is experiencing knee pain. We’ve outlined five considerations to help you decide if this procedure is right for you:
- Meniscus injuries can often be managed without surgery. Some possibilities for pain management include physical therapy to restore knee strength and mobility, injections such as cortisone or hyaluronic acid to reduce inflammation, and recently developed stem-cell therapy that may help heal the injured tissue.
- Over the past few years, several studies found that meniscectomy is not better than non-surgical care for healing meniscal tears. The results of a 2013 study in the New England Journal of Medicine indicate that surgeons across the country may be performing way more knee surgeries than necessary. You can read more about this study in the New York Times and CNN.
- Before deciding on surgery, be sure you and your doctor can determine whether your knee pain is actually caused by the torn meniscus. There’s a possibility that something else – including osteoarthritis, which often accompanies tears, ligament damage or simple overuse – could be the source of your pain.
- While knee surgery may be effective in reducing pain in the short-term, the risk of osteoarthritis may increase later in life. A recent study shows those who undergo a partial meniscectomy have over a 3 times higher risk of developing osteoarthritis and needing a total knee replacement later in life.
- An artificial meniscus may soon be available. If you are suffering from knee pain following meniscus surgery or are without viable treatment options, NUsurface® is a meniscus replacement prosthesis that may provide an alternative option, once approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. NUsurface is designed to mimic the function of the natural meniscus and redistribute loads transmitted across the knee joint. The device is made from medical grade plastic and, as a result of its unique materials, composite structure and design, does not require fixation to bone or soft tissues. NUsurface has the potential to address the treatment gap of those suffering from meniscus deficiency and deterioration who are too old for meniscus repair and too young for total knee arthroplasty. U.S. clinical trials completed enrollment in June 2018, and the company is expecting to file for approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration within the next two years.
While the recent studies are encouraging people to rethink the need for meniscectomies, some surgeons believe there are some situations for which knee surgery remains your best bet. Good candidates for the surgery include those with a documented meniscus tear who have tried extensive physical therapy and still experience pain, or those who can’t extend the knee or experience frequent “catching” or “locking.” For any knee pain that’s interfering with your life, see a specialist who can help develop a treatment plan that’s right for you.