Partial knee meniscectomy is a very common surgery that involves removing the torn part of the meniscus, which is a natural shock absorber for the knee. In fact, in America alone, we perform about 700,000 of these surgeries per year, making it one of the most common orthopedic surgeries. While most patients think they’re getting a meniscus repair procedure, in fact, 96% of these surgeries just whack out a piece of the shock absorber, leaving your knee less and not more protected.
If you’re 35 or over, meniscus tears as are as common and about as important as wrinkles. This means that the idea that you hurt your knee and then an MRI shows a meniscus tear and that meniscus tear is causing your pain is no better than chance. This is because many patients over 35 are walking around with meniscus tears and have no pain. Hence, your first job after being told you have a meniscus tear on MRI is deciding whether it’s causing pain!
Your family physician will probably only provide two options: conservative measures to see if the meniscus heals on its own and, if it doesn’t, meniscus surgery. However, you actually have a third option to consider, and that is the interventional orthopedics approach to meniscus tears.
More than 90% of the time meniscus surgery does not actually “repair” the meniscus, but rather removes the torn pieces. Given its shock absorbing function, less shock absorber means more shock gets delivered to the cartilage and bone. After a while, this living tissue reacts, and cartilage is lost, and the knee begins to form new bone spurs. Multiple studies have calculated increased force versus the amount of meniscus removed and its profound negative consequences to the long-term function and stability of the knee. In addition, papers have confirmed that removing parts of the meniscus results in knee arthritis.
Most remarkably, recent research has shown that meniscus surgery, on average, is no more effective than a sham surgery or physical therapy in its positive effects, however physical therapy has no negative impact. Despite this, almost a million meniscectomies are still performed every year.