Recovery after meniscus repair: what to expect

Written by: Professor Paul Lee
Edited by: Nicholas Howley

If you are planning to get the meniscus in your knee repaired you might be worried about the recovery period afterwards. We interviewed leading consultant orthopaedic surgeon Professor Paul Lee about how long it takes to get back to work or sport, what symptoms are normal in the recovery period, and to what extent you can regain your mobility after meniscus repair.

How long does it take before you can get back to work?

Meniscus repair is a very intricate surgery, it is not suitable for everybody, and it depends on the blood supply to the meniscus. Therefore, how long it takes to heal depends on how the meniscus is repaired – and more importantly, where the meniscus was torn.

If the torn part of the meniscus was near the blood supply, the healing process is usually very successful. However, if the meniscus tear is away from the blood supply and has been longstanding, it may take a long time to recover.

Typically, following a simple repair, the patient can return to work to after approximately 6 – 8 weeks following surgery. However, for a more complex meniscus repair, it will take a lot longer.

What about getting back into sport?

I would not recommend returning to sport for at least 6-9 months. Again, this depends on the patient's biology, and also the way the meniscus was repaired.

For a low-impact sport such as cycling, the patient can return usually at around six months. However for complex sport that involves cutting and turning such as rugby, football or Aussie rules football, it may take a bit longer, typically about a year.

Each meniscus tear is very different. The position of a meniscus tear has a huge influence on how soon a patient can return to sport. For example, if the tear of the meniscus is towards the back of the knee, we would advise the patient to avoid deep flexion of the knee, but at the same time, extending the leg and walking on it can help to push the meniscus to heal better.

With the knowledge of how and where the meniscus was torn we can specifically tailor movements or create a programme which can be prescribed to help recovery.

What symptoms are normal in the recovery period?

Recovery depends on the amount of work which has been done within the knee, but usually meniscus repair is done via keyhole surgery. In terms of symptoms:

  • Pain is usually managed by simple painkillers such as paracetamol.
  • Swelling in the knee is to be expected for approximately 3 – 6 months. The immediate swelling will reduce after two weeks, but the general swelling on the whole leg can last a while longer, which is completely normal.
  • The knee may become stiff during the recovery process, which is completely normal and can be dealt with after the healing process has happened.
  • A clicking and crunching sensation could be normal during the recovery process.
  • A feeling of ‘fluid’ within the knee up to a certain extent could also be normal.

Some of these symptoms depend on the rehabilitation programme prescribed by the surgeon and any subsequent physiotherapy.

Following meniscus repair surgery, I would strongly recommend avoiding non-steroid anti-inflammatory medications such as Ibuprofen, Diclofenac and Naproxen. These are very powerful painkillers and their effect can delay the wound from healing and potentially delay the meniscus repair. Of course, if the pain is unbearable, these type of painkillers can be used to treat breakthrough pain.

What symptoms should I be worried about?

During the recovery process, if you feel that there is a sudden give way of the knee, or any clunking or locking within the knee that does not settle down within 24 hours, it is important to seek medical attention. If your knee is locked in a certain position do not try to force it straight. This could indicate that the repair of the meniscus has failed, and I would advise the patient to seek medical advice as soon as possible.

Although it is common for the keyhole wound to leak blood-stained fluid, if you have a temperature or fever associated with this, I would advise for you to seek medical advice immediately. Although it is very rare, a patient can develop deep vein thrombosis following this type of surgery. This can depend on your surgeon, since a tourniquet may or may not have been used, and this will also have an influence on your recovery.

What proportion of patients will need revision surgery?

Generally speaking, a meniscus repair is a very successful surgery. If the indication is correct with the correct candidate, the success rates of meniscus repair would be over 80%. However, if the repair is more complex or there is less of a biological response, the success rate could be down to 50%.

During surgery, we can stabilise the meniscus, reduce it back to place and potentially augment it with some biological stimulation. Whether the meniscus continues to repair itself is down to the patient's biology, their diet, and the way they load the knee following surgery. Therefore it is very important to work with your surgeon and have a full understanding to maximise your chance of success.

Will I completely regain my previous mobility – or will there be a permanent change?

If your meniscus repair is successful and there is no other associated damage, it is highly likely that you will be able to return to your previous state of strength, range of movement, as well as your performance.

However, it is important to understand that each meniscus repair is very different and it requires some specialist knowledge. Generally speaking, it is not advisable to repair a meniscus for a patient aged over 50 without any biological supplementation. It is important to talk to your surgeon, and based on your MRI scan, discuss and understand your prognosis.

Recently at MSK Doctors we have employed a needle arthroscopy technique. This will help improve the accuracy of our diagnosis to give a more precise prognosis of the meniscus’ condition in terms of inside, and what the general condition is within the cartilage inside the knee. This will give a much better indication and prognosis of how any surgery will respond. We are proud to say that MSK Doctors is the first clinic to adopt this technique in the United Kingdom.

If you would like a consultation with Professor Lee to discuss meniscus repair, click here .

By Professor Paul Lee
Orthopaedic surgery

Professor Paul Lee is a double board-certified consultant orthopaedic surgeon practising in Lincoln, Nottingham, and Leicester. Specialising in treating knee and hip problems, including hip replacements and knee cartilage replacement, he also has expertise in sport and regenerative surgery.

After receiving his medical degree from the University of Cardiff, Wales, Professor Lee continued with higher surgical training, becoming a certified Member of the Faculty of Sports and Exercise Medicine (MFSEM) and Fellow in the European (FEBOT) and UK (FRCS) Trauma and Orthopaedics boards. He completed a PhD in medical engineering and has conducted research into regenerative medicine, which has helped him to treat sports injuries, including a number of UK Premiership footballers. He is now Medical Director of MSK Doctors and he continues to develop new treatments at the cutting edge of his field in his capacity as Director of Research and Cell Therapy Lead for the Lincolnshire NHS trust.

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