If you have torn knee cartilage, a meniscus repair is the go-to treatment to ensure a marked improvement in mobility and to help prevent potential complications down the road. At Mattalino Orthopaedic in Phoenix, AZ, meniscus surgery is performed at our state-of-the-art clinic with extensive after-care to ensure a complete recovery. How long recovery takes can depend on a variety of factors, which we will delve into below.
What to Expect During the Recovery Period
A repair of the cartilage between the knee bones is a relatively routine procedure to fix a very common injury. The knees experience a great deal of pressure and are particularly prone to damage. Thankfully, the surgery required to fix torn knee cartilage (also known as “meniscus”) can be done through a very small incision that leaves minimal scarring that will fade over time.
While meniscus surgery is considered routine, there are still several basic things that patients should do following their procedure to ensure a faster and optimal recovery. Proper aftercare is essential to avoid any complications or setbacks that may lengthen your recovery time.
Typical Recovery Timeframe for a Meniscus Repair
A patient undergoing a repair as opposed to a complete replacement of the meniscus can expect to resume light activities within a few weeks. However, it is important to note that a complete return of knee strength and full-range mobility may take several months. This timeline can vary depending on the patient’s age, fitness level, and commitment to appropriate physiotherapy following the procedure.
Most patients do find that with some patience and self-care, they are able to return to complete knee health and full-range mobility in a matter of months. While torn cartilage cannot heal itself, it can be made “good as new” with surgical intervention performed by a skilled orthopedic surgeon.
During and Immediately After the Procedure
A meniscus repair to the knee cartilage is a minimally invasive surgery that can normally be performed on an outpatient basis. We will determine during your consultation whether general or regional anesthesia would be appropriate – either way, no pain will be experienced during the procedure itself.
As the anesthesia wears off following your procedure, you will eventually feel some tenderness in the knee area. This is completely normal, and the doctor may prescribe some mild pain medication for you to take when you get home.
When You Return Home
You will be advised to rest as soon as you get home following your procedure. Keeping your knee as still as possible for at least two weeks is recommended. This ensures minimal tension on the cartilage as it heals. Physical exertion will need to be avoided for two to three months, although your doctor or physiotherapist will recommend some appropriate activities that will gradually strengthen the knee and surrounding area.
Total Recovery Time
While you may be able to resume most of your routine daily activities within a few weeks, it will likely take several months before you can resume more intense physical activities such as sports or running. Total recovery time can vary from 3 to 6 months, depending on the overall health of the patient and their commitment to proper follow-up care.
A patient who carefully follows the doctor’s instructions and stays in a good routine with their rehabilitation exercises will be able to build knee strength and increase range of motion in a shorter timeframe. Proper self-care is essential to shortening the recovery process and avoiding a recurrence of the injury.
Specific Things Patients Can Do to Improve Their Outcome
Staying off your feet during the first few days following the procedure is very important. Use of a knee brace and crutches is advisable for at least two weeks to make sure that the knee is stabilized and there is no unnecessary pressure placed on the joint. The doctor might also recommend ice and elevation during this period.
A Gradual Return to Weight-Bearing Activity
After two to three weeks, you might find that you no longer need the support of crutches, but it’s important to not rush the process. Many patients find that they can put their full weight on their knee after a couple of weeks, but know your limits and be sure to not overdo the amount of time you spend on your feet.
Even if you forego the crutches, you may wish to continue wearing the knee brace to improve stability and reduce the risk of over-straining the joint. Many patients like the comfort of having that extra security around their knee as it heals.
Following a Prescribed Physiotherapy Program
As soon as your initial recovery period is over, you will need to start a therapy program that will allow for a steady, gradual return to the activities you enjoyed prior to your meniscus injury. Our physiotherapy team will develop a personalized program that will address flexibility, endurance, and strength. Following your prescribed exercises as directed will go a long way towards ensuring a complete return to healthy knee function.
Engaging in Proper Self-Care
Recovering from knee surgery requires the patient to take care of themself and be very self-aware of how they feel. Resting when you feel tired, getting plenty of sleep, and eating a healthy diet can all be helpful in ensuring a quicker recovery. Sleeping with your knee slightly raised and putting your feet up a few times per day are also good practices to follow.
Taking Medication as Prescribed
Your doctor will give you very specific instructions for what medication you can and cannot take during the meniscus repair recovery process. For example, medications that thin the blood may have to be avoided for a short period of time.
Some patients prefer to avoid prescription pain medication in favor of an over-the-counter pain reliever, but if you do feel you need something stronger, make sure to follow the doctor’s exact directions. If you decide to go the OTC route, always ask the doctor first to make sure the medication is appropriate for you.
Your incision will be very small but it is still advisable to follow proper wound care. If you have a bandage in place, keep it clean and dry until it is ready to come off. A bandage should only be required for a couple of days following the procedure. Your stitches will dissolve on their own and any scarring will fade in time.
What to Expect Long-Term
The benefits of having a meniscus repair performed by a reputable orthopedic surgeon are numerous. Once the torn cartilage is repaired and fully healed, patients can expect to return to the physical activities they once loved. Many patients report that their knee mobility following the procedure is at least as good as it was prior to the initial injury.
It is important to note that a torn meniscus will not heal itself. Damaged knee cartilage, left untreated, can progress into severe arthritis and become increasingly debilitating. While there are some initial inconveniences associated with the surgery and healing process, the long-term benefits of addressing this condition at the earliest stages are more than worth it.
Avoiding Future Meniscus Injuries
Once you have regained full strength and mobility in your knee, you will want to make sure you never have to go through this process again! Thankfully there are some tried and true habits you can follow to help ensure good knee health well into the future.
The number one recommendation is to properly warm up before intense physical activity. Gentle stretching is also a good way to maintain flexibility in the knee joint. Giving your body time to rest in between bouts of intense exercise and not abruptly ramping up your workout routine is advisable.
Don’t Ignore Knee Pain
While a sharp pain in the knee can sometimes indicate a meniscus tear has already occurred, ignoring this pain can turn a minor injury into a much worse one. A cartilage tear is not like a broken bone – you can still move around, which often causes progressive damage and a delay in seeking medical attention.
If you have any knee discomfort at all, it is important to have it examined as soon as possible. This might make all the difference in the degree of treatment and recovery time that will be required.
Finding the Best Orthopaedic Surgeon to Repair Your Knee
If you are concerned about knee pain and wish to have an assessment, contact us today at Mattalino Orthopaedic in Phoenix, AZ. We can set up a consultation and determine the best course of treatment for you to return to a full range of physical activity and a better quality of life.