For many patients, meniscus surgery is the ninth inning or the fourth quarter. You’ve tried everything else—nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), steroid injections, and other traditional treatments—but nothing has eased your pain or fixed your meniscus. The meniscus-treatment bases are loaded, there are two strikes, and now it’s time for the heavy hitter, Meniscus Surgery, to come in and fix everything—to repair your meniscus and eliminate your pain once and for all. The truth is, more often than not, Meniscus Surgery is going to strike out! Meniscus repair without surgery is actually possible, but you may be playing on the wrong ball field altogether.
The Playbook of Meniscus Function
Our bodies function via a set of biological rules, and when something truly goes wrong, it’s important to address it. To understand meniscus tears, we must first review the playbook of meniscus function—what it is, how it works, what causes a tear in the first place, and, additionally, how a surgical repair works.
The meniscus is a natural shock absorber in the knee that supports and protects the cartilage and helps guide the knee bones. Tears can happen in sports or other active injuries or as a result of normal wear and tear as we age.
When the meniscus gets injured, many patients believe that the surgery they’re getting is a meniscus repair. However, what’s really being done more than 90% of the time is that the torn meniscus piece is excised, or removed. So to call it a “repair” is misleading. If a torn meniscus is less efficient in helping to protect cartilage, imagine what removing an entire piece of the meniscus might do! Many prior studies have shown that meniscus surgery increases the loads on the cartilage, leading to more wear and tear and even arthritis, so it’s easy to see how chronic pain could be an outcome of this surgery.
Meniscus Tears in Middle Age Are as Common as “Outs” in Baseball
One thing you’re guaranteed to see at a baseball game is multiple “outs”—strikeouts, foul outs, fly-ball outs, tag outs, and so on. One thing you’re very likely to see in middle age is meniscus tears. The big misconception is that meniscus tears seen on MRI after a middle-aged patient reports knee pain are significant. Just as many of your middle-aged friends who don’t have any knee pain or problems have meniscus tears. They’re as common as wrinkles and gray hair.
Why Meniscus Surgery Is the Wrong Ball Field
Previously, we shared results showing that patients’ satisfaction with their meniscus surgery is much lower than surgeons estimate, with over three in five patients being dissatisfied or not fully satisfied with their surgery. Sure, you could potentially get lucky here and be one of the less than two in five that are completely satisfied, but it’s a gamble.
In addition, recentely we highlighted a bevy of studies supporting our advice to just say NO! to meniscus surgery. These studies provided the following conclusions:
- Surgery provided no benefit to relieve knee catching or occasional locking.
- Debridement (the cleaning up of a knee that has arthritis and degenerative meniscus tears) was no better than a placebo.
- On average, patients who had meniscus surgery didn’t do any better than those who skipped the surgery and just had physical therapy.
- Meniscus surgery in patients without arthritis was no better than a fake surgical procedure.
This is just a small handful of studies we’ve reported here over the years. The short video below will explain why meniscus surgery is the wrong ball field.
Why Meniscus Treatment Without Surgery Is the Right Ball Field
There are interventional orthopedic options, such as stem cell therapy for knee meniscus tears, available that make meniscus treatment without surgery a feasible option. Our Regenexx same day stem cell procedure precisely injects the patient’s own stem cells into the meniscus and ligaments in order to reduce pain and increase function, two things surgery is proving to be ineffective at time and time again.
Our outcome data on our stem cell procedure for meniscus tears looks promising. We continue to follow our patients’ progress and based on those outcomes are able to keep track of our own successes and failures via a non-profit, patient registry. We have the world’s oldest and largest orthopedic stem cell treatment registry data, which is now run by the Interventional Orthopedics Foundation.
The upshot? Don’t let yourself get talked into a surgery that removes important parts and pieces of important structures like the meniscus. Opt instead for a different ball field, meniscus treatment without surgery!