Jewett Orthopaedic Clinic There are two types of cartilage in the
Meniscus Tears and Arthroscopy of the Knee
Richard M. Konsens, M.D.
Jewett Orthopaedic Clinic
There are two types of cartilage in the knee. Hyaline cartilage is the glistening white surface seen
when one opens a chicken joint. When this hyaline cartilage is worn or damaged, it is called arthritis.
The other type of cartilage in the knee is a fibrous washer known as the meniscus. The medial
meniscus is on the inside of the knee and the lateral meniscus is on the outside. They are thick,
fibrous washers that act as shock absorbers, protecting the glistening joint cartilage from wear,
helping joint motion and providing stability.
Tears of the meniscus are one of the most common knee conditions. Acute tears more commonly
occur in young, athletic patients with hyperextension or twisting trauma. Chronic meniscus tears can
occur gradually without an injury or with minor trauma and are more common in the middle and
older age groups. These chronic tears may cause symptoms for months or even years before the
patient consults a physician. Symptoms of meniscus tears can vary but frequently include swelling,
stiffness, popping and clicking noises, varying degrees of pain and locking of the knee joint. The
meniscus tear may be diagnosed clinically from the patient's history and physical examination.
Sometimes an MRI scan is helpfulto confirm the diagnosis.
ln general, we employ conservative management in the treatment of cartilage tears. The first line of
treatment may include icing the knee three or four times a day for 10 minutes, antiinflammatory
medication to reduce swelling and inflammation, simple exercises to maintain range of motion and
strength and restrictions to avoid the activities that aggravate the knee. lf the symptoms are not
responsive to these simple treatments, an intraarticular steroid injection may be helpful to relieve the
ln cases where mechanical symptoms persist, we consider arthroscopic surgery. The history of
endoscopy, or scoping within the body, began in Europe in the 1850s. lt was not until the early 1970s
that its application to knee surgery became apparent. Over the past 40 years improvements in
instrumentation, technique and experience have made arthroscopic surgery one of the most common
techniques in modern orthopaedics. Whereas most knee surgeries previously required an open
incision, now many treatments can be performed through the arthroscope.
lf the meniscus is torn we can evaluate the tear in terms of its exact location, size and geometry.
About 5% of meniscus tears can be sewn back together. These tend to be acute tears in younger
patients. ln most cases, this is not done because the healing potential and type of tear prevent
sewing the meniscus back together. Usually the part of the meniscus that is torn is simply removed or
resected, leaving the intact rim as a shock absorber. Research shows that retaining as much healthy
meniscal tissue as possible helps reduce the risk of future arthritis and disability of the
knee. Additionally, removing torn meniscus fragments and contouring the remaining meniscal rim
can help the swelling, pain, clicking and locking that may be associated with the tear.
The advantages of arthroscopy are numerous. The procedure generally takes less than 30 minutes
perform. This means less anesthetic, less risk of infection, medical risks, phlebitis and pneumonia
compared to longer surgical procedures. We start with an examination of the knee under anesthesia
before the arthroscope is inserted. We do the procedure through two small portals, each about onethird of an inch in length which are repaired with a single suture in each. Once the arthroscope is
inserted, a routine "tour" of the entire joint is performed assessing the main ligaments, articular
surfaces, synovial capsule and meniscus. We can remove loose fragments of bone or cartilage, do
biopsies, remove inflammatory tissue and smooth and treat roughened arthritic cartilage.
Before embarking on any procedure the risks should be understood. With arthroscopy the risks have
certainly been reduced from prior techniques. First is the risk of infection. This occurs in
approximately one out of 1000 patients who undergo the procedure. The symptoms of an infected
knee could include high fever, inability to move the knee, drainage, redness, extreme pain and
swelling. ln the unlikely event of an infection we would immediately return you back to surgery and
re-arthroscope the knee to clean it out. You would generally be on antibiotics for a period of time
The next potential risk is phlebitis. Phlebitis or a blood clot is very uncommon after arthroscopic
surgery. Risk factors for phlebitis include obesity, steroid use, birth control pills, smoking and a prior
history of phlebitis.
Perhaps the most common risk of arthroscopy is an incomplete relief of symptoms. Those patients
who have significant arthritis in addition to the meniscus tears still generally do improve, but the
improvement can take three or more months to occur.
Most of the arthroscopic procedures are performed under general anesthesia. The expertise of the
anethesiologist as well as the newer anesthetic agents make general anesthesia very safe for most
Once you decide to undergo the arthroscopy, you can call my scheduling secretary. She will check
with your insurance company and schedule the surgery and office visits. Most patients under 40
years of age may not require any labs but most over the age of 50 require a simple blood test, urine
analysis and an EKG. Most will be seen a day or two prior to the surgery in the office to check the
labs, sign consents and answer any last minute questions. Antiinflammatory medication and all
herba! supplements should be discontinued for at least two weeks prior to the operation if possible.
lf you are taking a blood thinner such as Plavix or Coumadin, check with your medical doctor and stop
it at least five days prior to the surgery. !t can generally be restarted on the evening after the
The surgery generally takes about 30 minutes and you will be in the operating room for approximately
40 minutes. After surgery most people spend about a half an hour in the recovery room and then are
allowed to return home. Most patients do not require crutches and can walk full weightbearing as
tolerated. After the surgery you will be given specific postoperative instructions. !n most cases it is
important to apply ice to the knee as much as possible for at least 20 minutes every hour while awake
for the first day or two and then two or three times a day until seen in the office. ! encourage
elevation of the knee to decrease swelling when sitting or lying. On the second or third postoperative
day you may remove the Ace bandage and dressings and apply Band-Aids to the two small wounds.
You should expect mild discomfort at times and swelling as well. Warning signs include severe
swelling, elevated fever, chills, night sweats, increasing pain and calf pain. lf you have any of the
warning signs, please do not hesitate to ca!! the office.
Besides full weightbearing we encourage motion of the knee in almost all cases. Unless otherwise
instructed using a stationary bicycle or doing stretching exercises can be quite helpful. You will be
prescribed pain medication and if no other antiinflammatories are prescribed a course of Aleve after
the surgery may help relieve some of the swelling. Generally we recommend a followup appointment
at the Jewett Clinic seven days after surgery to remove the sutures and go over the diagnosis and
treatment plan. Usually four weeks after the surgery a final followup is arranged.
This concludes the arthroscopy of the knee information handout. Of course it is impossible to answer
every question in a summary such as this. lf there are additional questions, please write them down
and do not hesitate to ask.