A torn meniscus may sound scary, but this knee injury is becoming increasingly common around the world: these days, up to 66 people in 100,000 will tear a meniscus per year. In some of these cases, surgery is needed to treat and repair the damaged structure.
If you’ve undergone or are planning to undergo meniscus surgery, it may take some time before you’re stretching your legs and moving with the same flexibility. We understand that taking time off after meniscus surgery can be frustrating. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to facilitate a successful and speedy recovery.
What is Meniscus Surgery?
Meniscus surgery is used to treat a torn meniscus, either by removal or repair. The meniscus is a cartilage structure found in the knee – each knee has two of these C-shaped structures between the femur and tibia. They help to stabilize your knee and balance weight, while also providing shock absorption that protects cartilage in the knee joint. It plays a vital part in the health of your knees and helps to prevent arthritis in the long term.
Your menisci can be worn down over time or damaged by sudden twists or collisions. Older people and athletes are most likely to experience a torn or damaged meniscus – in fact, it can be a somewhat common occurrence as people age.
Surgery is not always needed for a torn meniscus – in some cases, it may be able to heal on its own. This depends on a variety of factors, including:
- Size and location of the injury
Meniscus surgery usually involves knee arthroscopy, a simple and minimally invasive procedure. An arthroscope is used to observe the tear so your surgeon can decide on the appropriate technique to perform: either meniscus repair or partial meniscectomy. The former involves the repair of torn cartilage, and the latter involves removing damaged cartilage so the healthy tissue can repair itself and take the place of the damaged cartilage.
Tips For Post-Surgery Recovery
Full rehabilitation is essential after meniscus surgery. The best way to ensure a smooth recovery is by following your doctor’s advice, and keeping these tips in mind when you get home.
Don’t Forget R.I.C.E
R.I.C.E stands for ‘rest, ice, compression, and elevation.’ These are four of the most important ways you can facilitate post-surgery recovery at home. Here are the four R.I.C.E guidelines for recovery after meniscus surgery:
- Make sure to rest as much as possible and avoid putting any strain on your knee. Do not partake in the activity that led to your injury, or any similar activities.
- Apply an ice pack to your knee for at least 20 minutes several times a day.
- Stabilize your knee by applying compression via a bandage or brace. If you’ve undergone meniscus repair your surgeon will likely recommend a knee brace.
- While you’re resting and using an ice pack, keep your leg elevated to reduce swelling.
Keep On Top Of Your Strengthening Exercise
An essential component of the recovery process is meeting with a physical therapist who will give you an exercise plan. These approved exercises will help immensely in restoring your knee’s strength, movement, and flexibility – if you’re serious about getting back on your feet as soon as possible, follow your physical therapist’s directions carefully.
Attend All Of Your Follow Up Appointments
After meniscus surgery, your doctor will want to check in on your progress semi-regularly. Full recovery can vary, and it will be up to your doctor to determine how you are recovering and when you can return to work/sports/regular activities. You won’t have an accurate idea of your own recovery timeline if you skip appointments.
Follow All Professional Recommendations
Your doctors and physical therapists give you recommendations for a reason, so make sure to follow them. For example:
- If your doctor recommends a knee brace, wear it. Knee braces help to prevent further injury and promote faster healing.
- If they prescribe pain relief or suggest a certain amount of rest per day, make sure to follow through.
- Some patients, particularly those who undergo meniscus repair, will be given crutches after their operation. They aid recovery by keeping weight and pressure off your knee, and you may need to use them for at least a month. Don’t be tempted to stop because you feel like you can – your doctor or physical therapist will give you a specific timeline for when you should stop using them.
It’s vital to follow professional advice in the wake of a surgical procedure. How closely you follow this advice will dictate how quickly you recover.
How Long Will I Be In Recovery?
Recovery time for meniscus surgery can vary from person to person. In most cases, meniscus repair will take longer to heal than a meniscectomy.
Timeline for Meniscus Repair Recovery:
- It will take around 4-6 weeks before you can walk, drive, and otherwise move normally as you would prior to your injury.
- Heavy lifting, manual labor, strenuous exercise/activity, and sports should all be restricted until 3-6 months after surgery. Your physician can monitor progress and give a more accurate estimate of when you can return to these activities.
Timeline for Partial Meniscectomy Recovery:
- Within a week you should be able to walk on the injured knee/leg without crutches.
- Driving and moving as normal may be possible after the first two weeks of post-surgery recovery.
- Heavy lifting, manual labor, strenuous exercise/activity, and sports should all be restricted for at least a month, and only if you have a full range of motion and strength in your joints and you aren’t experiencing pain or swelling in the affected knee.
The road to recovery after meniscus surgery can be a long one, but if you follow the advice above (and the guidance of a medical professional), you can make the process much easier. If you have any further questions related to meniscus surgery or post-surgery care, schedule an appointment with our orthopedic surgeon today.