5 Millimeters Closer to Knee Pain Relief

man holding knee in pain

Five millimeters. That’s just under 1/20 of an inch. Less than the width of the eraser of a no.2 pencil. And all the room surgeons need to perform arthroscopic knee surgery to treat some of the most common sources of knee pain.

Addressing meniscal tears

For the last 30 years or so, arthroscopic knee surgery has allowed orthopedic surgeons a quick, minimally invasive way of addressing knee pain caused by meniscal tears. Meniscal tears are disruptions of the C-shaped structures that sit between your upper leg bone and lower leg bone in the knee joint.

These structures are made of cartilage — but are not the cartilage that covers the inside surface of the knee, which can degrade with arthritis. These “disc-like” structures help to distribute the force of your body weight across the knee joint. They typically tear near their center where you have no blood supply exists, which is why they do not heal. When they cause pain, meniscus tears may require a surgical procedure to address them.

How anthroscopic surgery works

Arthroscopy makes use of the principle of magnification through a fluid medium. The image of the knee is magnified by a digital camera attached to the scope. The image is then displayed on a monitor. This  allows the surgeon to see better and operate in a more refined way than he or she could during an open procedure.

Two or three five-millimeter incisions are all that is typically needed to perform arthroscopic partial menisectomy. The term “partial’ is used because only the torn part is removed.  There are instances when the meniscus can be repaired, but this is infrequent.

Back to life, quick recovery

Patients can return to full function quickly after this minimally invasive procedure as the tear is generally excised.

Most patients leave the surgical procedure bearing weight on the operated leg the day of surgery. Expect soreness after surgery because, even though it is minimally invasive, it is still a surgical procedure, and the leg itself is manipulated somewhat during the procedure to allow access to the various areas in the knee.

Most patients can return to office-type work within a few days. People can return to full activities in about four to six weeks, depending on the individual patient and whether anything else is going on in the knee joint, such as arthritis.

Some caveats

Although this is a quick and relatively easy procedure to address a very common painful problem in the knee, people should realize that once the meniscus tear is removed, that part is gone and does not grow back.

The meniscus functions as a load distributor for the knee joint, so surgery could later advance the rate of arthritis.

Knee arthroscopy offers a way for orthopedic surgeons to help patients who sustain injury and continue to have pain despite conservative treatment such as NSAIDs and physical therapy. Talk with an orthopaedic surgeon to find out if this procedure is right for you.

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Joseph Scarcella, MD

Joseph Scarcella, MD, Orthopaedic Surgery, Cleveland Clinic, has been in practice for more than 20 years in southwest Cleveland hospitals.
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