Updated: Aug 17, 2021
By Robert Ference, M.D. – Orthopedic Surgeon
May 28, 2021
Many patients come to my office with symptoms of a sharp, stabbing pain in their knee, or report that their knee is "locking up." Initially, they fear they may have advanced and irreversible arthritis. Oftentimes, they are pleasantly surprised to learn that the cause of their pain is a simple meniscal tear which is easily treated through a minimally invasive outpatient surgery called arthroscopy (sometimes referred to as "scoping"). The goal of an arthroscopic procedure is to preserve as much of the meniscus cartilage as possible to prevent arthritis in the future. Most patients are completely healed from their arthroscopic surgeries in three weeks.
A meniscus is a C-shaped structure made of soft cartilage that acts as a cushion or shock absorber for the knee. Your knee has two menisci that are anchored to the tibia (shin bone). During an activity where the person is twisting (often while playing sports), the meniscus cartilage can get caught between the tibia and the femur bone causing a tear. Symptoms include a sudden stabbing pain in your knee. Some patients say their knee will "lock."
One of my patients, John Downes, 52, of Berkley, Michigan, is an avid recreational soccer, softball and kickball player. John kindly gave me permission to share his story. He came to see me in April with knee pain that progressively got worse over many months. He recalled how his knee pain was excruciating when the ball hit his foot and turned it to the outside. The pain would come and go and he ignored it, he said, until it started to affect how he was walking. During his office visit, we looked at his x-rays and I did a physical exam. I could tell right away that the problem was around his meniscus.
One week after John’s arthroscopic procedure in May 2021, he started walking and driving. After two weeks, the stitches had dissolved, his pain had subsided significantly, and he began working out again. Based on how well John is doing, he will be back to playing kickball just four weeks following his arthroscopy.
Meniscus tears do not typically repair on their own unless there is a viable blood supply to the damaged area. Like my patient John experienced, the natural historical presentation of a meniscus tear is that the pain will alternate between getting worse and feeling better, but not completely go away. Occasionally, the cartilage is so frayed that we cannot repair the meniscus with arthroscopy, but we can still cut out the frayed portion to prevent it from getting trapped in between the tibia and femur bones.
If you have progressively increasing knee pain and are wondering if it’s treatable, consider making an appointment for an examination and x-ray by calling my office at (248) 626-0135, or visiting www.drrrobertference.com and submit the new patient form on the bottom of the page. The solution may be as simple as an arthroscopic surgical repair to get you back to the activities you love.
Robert Ference, M.D., is an orthopedic surgeon based out of Farmington Hills, MI.