Torn Meniscus: Surgery, Treatment & Recovery Time


Meniscus tears rarely heal by themselves, but not all meniscus tears require surgery. Your treatment will depend on the cause and the pattern of the tear. If a tear is stable or caused by arthritis, for example, then a combination of rest, icing, compression, regular elevation of the affected knee, and physical therapy may alleviate the pain without the need for surgery.

Most orthopedic specialists initially recommend a non-invasive course of treatment, especially for older and less active patients. If the tear is large, displaced, causing buckling or locking, or if conservative treatment has not helped, then minimally invasive arthroscopic surgery is recommended.



Non-surgical treatments for meniscus tears can begin to alleviate pain and swelling in as little as a week. With a balanced physical therapy program, patients can experience relief from the pain of minor to moderate tears in as little as five weeks, though patients should continue to rebuild their strength and stamina for another several weeks before fully resuming any strenuous activities.

If symptoms do not improve within six weeks of physical therapy, your orthopedic specialist may recommend that you pursue arthroscopic surgery to alleviate the pain.


Meniscus surgery is performed arthroscopically; the surgeon operates through two tiny pinhole incisions into the knee. The ultimate course of action, however, depends on the site and extent of the tear.

If there is a complex, radial, or degenerative tear in the white zone of the meniscus, where there is no blood supply, then the torn fragment is trimmed and the remainder of the meniscus is smoothed to prevent further tearing. Tears close to the red zone of the meniscus (where the blood supply is) are usually repaired in order to preserve the meniscus, which acts to protect the lining of the bones from wearing away and developing premature athritis. Typically, an athroscopic meniscectomy (trimming of the meniscus) is a 30-minute procedure. A repair may take 20 to 30 minutes longer.


As with any knee surgery, there will be some pain and swelling for the first several days after athroscopic meniscus surgery, but these symptoms are usually well-managed with a few days of icing and medication. During surgery, the knee is filled with water so that your surgeon can see the structures clearly, so your knee may feel swollen for a few days after arthroscopic surgery.

Usually, you will be able to go home walking and using a cane for the first day or two. If a repair is performed, then you will likely have a brace to protect the repair. If no repair is warranted, then you will only have some light bandaging that can be removed within two days. If repaired successfully, the torn piece of meniscus connects and heals back to the peripheral soft tissue.

If you have a desk job which does not require heavy labor, then you will likely be able to return to work within two or three days. If your job involves heavy lifting or climbing, then it may take a few weeks to return. By the second or third day, most people are able to go about their normal daily activities. Still, it is vital that a full course of physical therapy is completed to regain full range of motion and strength.



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