Torn Meniscus

What is the treatment for a torn meniscus?

The treatment of a meniscus tear depends on its severity, location, and underlying disease within the knee joint. Patient circumstances also may affect the treatment options. Often it is possible to treat meniscus tears conservatively without an operation using anti-inflammatory medications and physical therapy rehabilitation to strengthen muscles around the knee to prevent joint instability. Frequently, that is all a patient needs. Patients involved in athletics or whose work is demanding may opt for immediate surgery. Most patients fall in between and the decision to treat the injury conservatively or operative needs to be individualized.

Torn meniscus due to injury

The first steps in treatment after the acute injury usually include rest, ice, compression, and elevation (RICE). This may be helpful in easing the inflammation that occurs with a torn meniscus. Anti-inflammatory medications, such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or naproxen (Aleve), may help relieve pain and inflammation. It is important to remember that over-the-counter medications can have side effects and interactions with prescription medications. It is reasonable to ask a health-care professional or pharmacist for directions as to which over-the-counter medication might be best for someone's particular situation. Rest and elevation may also require the use of crutches to limit weight-bearing.

Many patients choose initial conservative or nonsurgical treatment for a meniscus tear. Once the injury symptoms have calmed, the physician may recommend exercise programs, specifically guided by physical therapists, to strengthen the muscles surrounding the knee and add to the stability of the joint. Maintaining an ideal body weight will also help lessen the forces that can stress the knee joint. Shoe orthotics may be useful to distribute the forces generated by walking and running. Braces tend not to be effective because the meniscus injury does not cause the knee joint to become structurally unstable.

If conservative therapy fails, surgery may be a consideration. Knee arthroscopy allows the orthopedic surgeon to assess the tear within the meniscus and repair it. During an operation, the goal is to preserve as much cartilage as possible. Procedures include meniscus repair, sewing the torn edges together or meniscectomy, trimming away the torn area and smoothing the injury site. Microfracture surgery is another surgical option to stimulate new cartilage growth.

Degenerative joint disease

In older patients with degenerative joint disease (also known as osteoarthritis) where the cartilage wears out, treatment options may be considered over a longer timetable.

Exercise and muscle strengthening may be an option to protect the joint and maintain range of motion. As well, anti-inflammatory medications may be considered to decrease swelling and pain arising from the knee joint.

Cortisone medication injections into the knee joint may be used to decrease joint inflammation and to bring temporary symptom relief that can last weeks or months. A variety of hyaluronan preparations are approved for mild to moderate knee degenerative arthritis and include hylan G-F 20 (Synvisc) and hyaluronan (Orthovisc).

The use of dietary supplements, including chondroitin and glucosamine, have yet to have their effectiveness proven, but many people find relief with their use.

As a last resort, joint replacement may be an option for patients who have substantial degeneration of the knee with worn out cartilage. These individuals typically have recurrent or constant pain and limited range of motion of the knee, preventing them from performing routine daily activities.

Reviewed on 6/13/2014

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