What is meniscus surgery?

Meniscus Surgery
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Meniscectomy: Overview

Meniscectomy is the surgical removal of all or part of a torn meniscus. A meniscus tear is a common knee joint injury. Surgeons who perform meniscectomies (orthopedic surgeons) will make surgical decisions based on the meniscus's ability to heal as well as your age, health, and activity level.

Your doctor will suggest the treatment that will likely work best for you based on where the tear is, the pattern of the tear, and how big it is. In some cases, the surgeon makes the final decision during surgery, when the surgeon can see the how strong the meniscus is, where the tear is, and how big the tear is.

Meniscus surgery is usually done as arthroscopic surgery. Your doctor uses a lighted tube called an arthroscope, or scope. The doctor puts the scope and other surgical tools through small cuts in your knee.

Teens: How can you care for yourself after meniscus surgery?


  • Rest when you feel tired. Getting enough sleep will help you recover. Sleep with your knee raised, but not bent. Put a pillow under your foot.
  • Keep your leg raised as much as possible for the first few days.
  • You may shower 24 to 48 hours after surgery, if your doctor okays it. When you shower, keep your bandage and incisions dry by taping a sheet of plastic to cover them. If you have a brace, take it off if your doctor says it is okay. It might help to sit on a shower stool.
  • You will be able to stand if you have a brace or use crutches. Do not put weight on your leg until your doctor says you can. You can move around the house to do daily tasks.
  • If you have a brace, leave it on except when you exercise your knee or you shower. Be careful not to put the brace on too tight. You will use it for about 2 to 6 weeks.
  • If your doctor does not want you to shower or remove your brace, you can take a sponge bath.
  • Wait 2 weeks or until your doctor says it is okay before you take a bath, swim, use a hot tub, or soak your leg.
  • If you drive, ask your doctor when you can drive again.
  • How soon you can return to school depends on the type of surgery you had. You may be able to go back in 1 to 2 weeks.
  • If you work, how soon you can return depends on your job. If you sit at work, you may be able to go back in 1 to 2 weeks. But if you are on your feet at work, it may take 4 to 6 weeks. If you are very physically active in your job, it may take 3 to 6 months.


  • You can eat your normal diet. If your stomach is upset, try bland, low-fat foods like plain rice, broiled chicken, toast, and yogurt.
  • You may notice that your bowel movements are not regular right after your surgery. This is common. Try to avoid constipation and straining with bowel movements. You may want to take a fiber supplement every day. If you have not had a bowel movement after a couple of days, ask your doctor about taking a mild laxative.


  • Your doctor will tell you if and when you can restart your medicines. You will also get instructions about taking any new medicines.
  • Take pain medicines exactly as directed.
    • If the doctor gave you a prescription medicine for pain, take it as prescribed.
    • If you are not taking a prescription pain medicine, ask your doctor if you can take an over-the-counter medicine.
  • If your doctor prescribed antibiotics, take them as directed. Do not stop taking them just because you feel better. You need to take the full course of antibiotics.
  • If you think your pain medicine is making you sick to your stomach:
    • Take your medicine after meals (unless your doctor has told you not to).
    • Ask your doctor for a different pain medicine.

Incision care

  • If you have a bandage over your incisions, keep the bandage clean and dry. Follow your doctor's instructions. Some doctors want to see you before you take it off, while others may let you take it off 48 to 72 hours after your surgery.
  • If you have strips of tape on the incisions, leave the tape on for a week or until it falls off.
  • Keep the area clean and dry.


  • Knee rehabilitation is a series of exercises you do after your surgery. This helps you get back your knee's range of motion and strength. You will work with your doctor and physical therapist to plan this exercise program. To get the best results, you need to do the exercises correctly and as often and as long as your doctor tells you.

Ice and elevation

  • Put ice or a cold pack on your knee for 10 to 20 minutes at a time. Try to do this every 1 to 2 hours for the next 3 days (when you are awake). Put a thin cloth between the ice and your skin. If your doctor recommends using a cold therapy machine, follow the instructions that came with the machine.
  • Prop up the sore leg on a pillow when you ice your knee or any time you sit or lie down during the next 3 days. Try to keep your leg above the level of your heart. This will help reduce swelling.
  • If your doctor gave you support stockings, continue to wear them 24 hours a day for 3 weeks (or as long as your doctor says).

How well does a meniscectomy work?

Removing the whole meniscus generally reduces some symptoms. But losing the meniscus reduces the cushioning and stability of the joint. Most people, especially if they are young or active, aren't satisfied with a total meniscectomy. This is why surgeons try to remove as little of the meniscus as they can.

Younger people who have a meniscus tear from an injury are the most likely to have less pain and better function after a partial meniscectomy.

How do you prepare for meniscus surgery?

Surgery can be stressful. This information will help you understand what you can expect. And it will help you safely prepare for surgery.

Preparing for surgery

  • You may need to shower or bathe with a special soap the night before and the morning of your surgery. The soap contains chlorhexidine. It reduces the amount of bacteria on your skin that could cause an infection after surgery.
  • Be sure you have someone to take you home. Anesthesia and pain medicine will make it unsafe for you to drive or get home on your own.
  • Understand exactly what surgery is planned, along with the risks, benefits, and other options.
  • If you take a medicine that prevents blood clots, your doctor may tell you to stop taking it before your surgery. Or your doctor may tell you to keep taking it. (These medicines include aspirin and other blood thinners.) Make sure that you understand exactly what your doctor wants you to do.
  • Tell your doctor ALL the medicines, vitamins, supplements, and herbal remedies you take. Some may increase the risk of problems during your surgery. Your doctor will tell you if you should stop taking any of them before the surgery and how soon to do it.
  • Make sure your doctor and the hospital have a copy of your advance directive. If you don’t have one, you may want to prepare one. It lets others know your health care wishes. It’s a good thing to have before any type of surgery or procedure.

What are the risks of meniscus repair surgery?

Risks of the surgery itself aren't common. But they may include:

  • Infection.
  • Damage to nerves or blood vessels around the knee.
  • Blood clots in the leg.
  • Risks from anesthesia.

What can you expect as you recover from a meniscectomy?

Rehabilitation (rehab) varies depending on the injury, the type of surgery, your surgeon's preference, and your age, health status, and activities. Time periods vary, but meniscus surgery is usually followed by a period of rest, walking, and selected exercises. Most people who have arthroscopic meniscectomy can bear weight a day or two after surgery and can return to full activity within 2 to 4 weeks. After the full range of motion without pain is possible, you can return to your previous activity level.

How soon you can walk, drive, and do more vigorous activities will depend on the type and extent of the surgery and your success in rehab.

After meniscus surgery: Overview

Meniscus surgery removes or fixes the cartilage (meniscus) between the bones in the knee. Each knee has two of these rubbery pads of cartilage, one on either side. Meniscus repair is usually done with arthroscopic surgery. Your doctor put a lighted tube—called an arthroscope or scope—and other surgical tools through small cuts (incisions) in your knee. The incisions leave scars that usually fade in time.

You will feel tired for several days. Your knee will be swollen. And you may have numbness around the cuts the doctor made (incisions) on your knee. You can put ice on the knee to reduce swelling. Most of this will go away in a few days. You should soon start seeing improvement in your knee.

You may be able to return to most of your regular activities within a few weeks. But it will be several months before you have complete use of your knee. It may take as long as 6 months before your knee is strong enough for hard physical work or certain sports. You will need to build your strength and the motion of your joint with rehabilitation (rehab) exercises. In time, your knee will likely be stronger and more stable than it was before the surgery.

How soon you can return to sports or exercise depends on how well you follow your rehab program and how well your knee heals. Your doctor or physical therapist will give you an idea of when you can return to these activities. If you had a partial meniscectomy, you might be able to play sports in about 4 to 6 weeks. If you had meniscus repair, it may be 3 to 6 months before you can play sports.

What happens on the day of your meniscus surgery?

  • Follow the instructions exactly about when to stop eating and drinking. If you don't, your surgery may be canceled. If your doctor told you to take your medicines on the day of surgery, take them with only a sip of water.
  • Take a bath or shower before you come in for your surgery. Do not apply lotions, perfumes, deodorants, or nail polish.
  • Do not shave the surgical site yourself.
  • Take off all jewelry and piercings. And take out contact lenses, if you wear them.

At the hospital or surgery center

  • Bring a picture ID.
  • The area for surgery is often marked to make sure there are no errors.
  • You will be kept comfortable and safe by your anesthesia provider. You won't feel pain. You will probably get medicine to relax you or make you fall asleep.
  • The surgery will take at least 1 hour.
  • Your leg may be in a leg brace to limit motion. You may need to wear a brace for 4 to 6 weeks after surgery.

Why is a meniscectomy done?

If a meniscus tear is causing pain or swelling, your doctor may recommend surgery to have the torn pieces of the meniscus removed. The edges will be surgically shaved to make the remaining meniscus smooth. Your surgeon will try to preserve as much meniscal tissue as possible. This can help prevent long-term degeneration of your knee and allow you to return to full activities.

To decide whether to remove all or part of your meniscus, the doctor will look at the location, length, tear pattern, and stability of the tear as well as the condition of the whole meniscus. Your surgeon will also consider the condition of the entire knee, your age, and any age- or injury-related degeneration.

How is meniscectomy done?

Orthopedic surgeons most often perform meniscus surgery with arthroscopy. This is a procedure used to both examine and repair the inside of a joint. A thin tube (arthroscope) is inserted through small incisions near the joint. This scope contains a camera and a light. Surgical tools are inserted through other small incisions. Arthroscopic surgery may limit knee damage from surgery and may promote fuller recovery. But some tears may require open knee surgery.

In a total meniscectomy, the entire meniscus is removed. In a partial meniscectomy, the surgeon removes as little of the meniscus as possible. Unstable meniscal fragments are removed, and the remaining meniscus edges are smoothed so that there are no frayed ends.

You may have general or regional anesthesia for a meniscectomy. Arthroscopic partial meniscectomy is commonly done in an outpatient surgical center.

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