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Home Knowledge Center Wellness Library Meniscus Tear: Should I Have Surgery?

Meniscus Tear: Should I Have Surgery?

You may want to have a say in this decision, or you may simply want to follow your doctor's recommendation. Either way, this information will help you understand what your choices are so that you can talk to your doctor about them.

Meniscus Tear: Should I Have Surgery?

Get the facts

Your options

  • Have surgery to treat a meniscus tear.
  • Don't have surgery. Use home treatment and physical therapy to treat your knee.

Key points to remember

  • Your decision about surgery depends on the pattern of the tear, its size, and your age. Your health and activity level can also affect your treatment options.
  • There are two kinds of surgery for a meniscus tear. One kind repairs the tear by sewing it back together. The other kind removes part or all of the meniscus.
  • Surgery works better for certain types of tears. It may not be as helpful for other types. Your doctor can help you understand how well surgery or home treatment might work for you.
  • You may want to have surgery if your knee pain is too great or if you are unable to do daily activities.
  • Surgery to repair a tear may help you reduce the risk of other joint problems, such as osteoarthritis.
  • Nonsurgical treatment for a tear includes rest, ice, compression, and propping up your leg on a pillow when you sit or lie down. You may take over-the-counter medicines to relieve pain and swelling. Your doctor may recommend a rehab program that will probably include physical therapy and home exercises.
FAQs

What is a meniscus tear?

A meniscus tear is a common knee injury. The meniscus is a rubbery, C-shaped disc that cushions your knee. Each knee has two menisci (plural of meniscus)—one at the outer edge of the knee and one at the inner edge. The menisci keep your knee steady by balancing your weight across the knee. A torn meniscus can prevent your knee from working right.

How is a meniscus injured or torn?

A meniscus tear is usually caused by twisting or turning, often with the foot planted while the knee is bent. These tears can occur when you lift something heavy or play sports. As you get older, your meniscus gets worn. This can make it tear more easily.

If you are older, you may not know what you did to cause the tear. Or you may only remember feeling pain after you got up from a squatting position, for example. Pain and slight swelling are often the only symptoms.

What happens when you have a meniscus tear?

What happens depends on the size of the tear, its location, and your symptoms. It also depends on whether your knee was healthy when the tear happened or if your knee already had age-related changes.

Tears caused by an injury in younger people may heal over time with rest and physical therapy. Surgery is often used for large tears. That's because they can lead to long-term problems if they aren't repaired.

When the tear is in a knee that has age-related changes, symptoms may be helped by rest, physical therapy, and time. In some cases, a doctor may suggest surgery.

How is a torn meniscus treated?

There are two basic types of treatment for a torn meniscus—nonsurgical treatment and surgery.

  • With nonsurgical treatment, you use rest, ice, compression, and elevation, and you have physical therapy. You may wear a knee brace for a short time.
  • With surgery, you can have one of the following:
    • Surgical repair to sew the tear together.
    • Partial meniscectomy, which is surgery to remove the torn section of the meniscus.
    • Total meniscectomy, which is surgery to remove the entire meniscus.

Your doctor will likely suggest the treatment that they think will work best for you based on where the tear is, what the pattern of the tear is, how big it is, and how old you are. Your health and activity level may also affect your treatment options.

When possible, meniscus surgery is done using arthroscopy instead of open surgery. During arthroscopy, your doctor puts a lighted tube with a tiny camera—called an arthroscope, or scope—and surgical tools through small incisions.

Surgery has risks, including infection, a blood clot in the leg, damage to nerves or blood vessels, and the risks of anesthesia. After surgery you may still have pain and joint stiffness.

How well does surgery work?

Surgery to repair a tear in the meniscus can relieve pain and improve knee function. Surgery may also help prevent long-term complications, such as osteoarthritis. footnote 2

Meniscus repair may be most successful: footnote 2

  • In younger people.
  • If the tear is near the outer edge of the meniscus, where there is better blood supply.
  • If the tear is small.
  • If the tear was caused by sudden trauma and not by wear and tear.
  • If the repair is done soon after the injury.

Surgery to remove part of the meniscus (meniscectomy) is better at keeping your knee stable than surgery to remove all of the meniscus. Partial removal also allows a quicker and more complete recovery than total removal.

Removing the whole meniscus typically reduces some symptoms. But losing the meniscus reduces the cushioning and stability of the joint. Most people, especially if they are young or active, are not satisfied with a total meniscectomy. This is why surgeons try to remove as little of the meniscus as possible.

Studies have shown that a partial meniscectomy may improve knee pain in people who don't have arthritis in their knee. This surgery is not likely to help if you already have arthritis. footnote 1

What can you do instead of surgery for a torn meniscus?

Instead of surgery, you may try rest, ice, compression, and elevation. You may wear a knee brace. You can try over-the-counter medicine such as ibuprofen or naproxen to help with pain and to reduce swelling.

If you have ongoing pain after trying these nonsurgical treatments, you can work with your doctor to plan a rehab program that helps you regain as much strength and flexibility in your knee as possible. Your rehab program probably will include physical therapy and home exercises.

Why might your doctor recommend surgery?

Your doctor may recommend surgery because:

  • You still have pain after trying other treatment, such as rest and physical therapy.
  • Your knee "locks up" instead of working normally.
  • You may be able to reduce the risk of future joint problems (osteoarthritis).
  • You are an active person.
  • Your knee has a good chance of healing with surgery.

Compare your options

Compare

What is usually involved?









What are the benefits?









What are the risks and side effects?









Have surgery for a torn meniscus Have surgery for a torn meniscus
  • You have surgery to fix or remove the meniscus. In most cases, you will go home on the same day as the surgery.
  • Either type of surgery is followed by rehabilitation that includes rest, walking, and doing exercises until you have full range of motion without pain.
  • It may take weeks or months before you can go back to your daily activities after surgery.
  • Surgery may relieve pain and improve knee function.
  • How well surgery works depends on many things, including your age, the cause of the tear, and the size and location of the tear.
  • Surgery to repair tears may reduce the risk of long-term joint problems.
  • You may still have pain and joint stiffness after surgery.
  • Surgery has risks, such as:
    • Infection.
    • Damage to nerves or blood vessels around the knee.
    • Blood clots in the leg.
    • Damage to the joint.
    • Risks from anesthesia.
  • Your age and your health can also affect your risk.
Don't have surgery Don't have surgery
  • You try rest, ice, compression, and elevation.
  • You may wear a knee brace.
  • You try over-the-counter medicine such as ibuprofen or naproxen to help with pain and swelling.
  • You may have a rehab program with physical therapy and home exercises.
  • You may be able to relieve pain and return your knee to normal.
  • You avoid surgery that you may not need.
  • You avoid the risks of surgery.
  • You might be able to have surgery later if your symptoms don't get better.
  • You may still have pain, or your pain may get worse.
  • You may not have full use of your knee.

Personal stories about meniscus tear surgery

These stories are based on information gathered from health professionals and consumers. They may be helpful as you make important health decisions.

I've had quite a bit of pain on one side of my knee for a couple of weeks, but my symptoms have decreased. My doctor thinks that my meniscus may be healing on its own. I'm still seeing my doctor, though, and I've started rehabilitation with a physical therapist. He's got me going through range-of-motion and knee strengthening exercises at home. I don't think I'll need surgery.

Jose, age 41

A few months ago, I started having pain in my right knee when I would move it certain ways. My doctor examined my knee and asked me about my symptoms. He diagnosed a tear in my meniscus. A follow-up MRI confirmed it. I've been doing rehabilitation, but it's been 2 months and I've still got pain, particularly if I twist my knee at all. The orthopedic surgeon thinks that I may have a flap or piece of the torn meniscus moving in the knee, which is giving me a lot of problems with my knee locking. He's recommending surgical repair, and I am going to go ahead with the surgery.

Will, age 63

I injured my knee about a month ago in a tennis game. It didn't take my doctor long to diagnose a meniscus tear, and I'm going to have an arthroscopic test to see just how much I've damaged the knee. The surgeon says she can do repairs in the same procedure. My mother has severe osteoarthritis, and I believe that my knee may develop early arthritis if I don't get this tear taken care of. The arthroscopic surgery makes sense to me.

Alondra, age 32

I am a serious athlete and this isn't my first injury. But this is the first time I've had to think about surgery. I've had bad pain in my knee fairly constantly since I twisted it in the gym a few weeks ago. It's particularly bad if I bend or flex my knee. The surgeon says that the MRI shows a large tear in the inner part of my meniscus, and that's the part that doesn't heal well. He's recommending a partial meniscectomy to remove the damaged tissue. He says that he'll only have to remove a small part of the meniscus and I'll still have stability in the knee, and hopefully no more pain! I'm going to have the surgery next week.

Marlon, age 30

What matters most to you?

Your personal feelings are just as important as the medical facts. Think about what matters most to you in this decision, and show how you feel about the following statements.

Reasons to have surgery

Reasons not to have surgery

I want to do whatever I can to fix my knee.

I want to wait and see if my knee gets better before I have surgery.

More important
Equally important
More important

I think surgery will help me feel better.

I don't think surgery will help me feel better.

More important
Equally important
More important

I think surgery may help me avoid long-term joint problems.

I don't want to have surgery for any reason.

More important
Equally important
More important

I accept the risks of surgery.

I feel that surgery is too risky for me.

More important
Equally important
More important

My other important reasons:

My other important reasons:

More important
Equally important
More important

Where are you leaning now?

Now that you've thought about the facts and your feelings, you may have a general idea of where you stand on this decision. Show which way you are leaning right now.

Having surgery

NOT having surgery

Leaning toward
Undecided
Leaning toward

What else do you need to make your decision?

Check the facts

1, My treatment for a torn meniscus will depend on more than just how I hurt my knee.
2, Surgery works better for certain types of tears.
3, Surgery to repair a tear may help me avoid long-term joint problems.

Decide what's next

1,Do you understand the options available to you?
2,Are you clear about which benefits and side effects matter most to you?
3,Do you have enough support and advice from others to make a choice?

Certainty

1. How sure do you feel right now about your decision?

Not sure at all
Somewhat sure
Very sure
2, Check what you need to do before you make this decision.

Your Summary

Here's a record of your answers. You can use it to talk with your doctor or loved ones about your decision.

Your decision

Next steps

Which way you're leaning

How sure you are

Your comments

Your knowledge of the facts

Key concepts that you understood

Key concepts that may need review

Getting ready to act

Patient choices

What matters to you

Print Summary

Credits and References

Credits
Author Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer William H. Blahd Jr. MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
Primary Medical Reviewer Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Primary Medical Reviewer E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine
Primary Medical Reviewer Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Primary Medical Reviewer Patrick J. McMahon MD - Orthopedic Surgery
Primary Medical Reviewer Heather Quinn MD - Family Medicine
Primary Medical Reviewer Kenneth J. Koval MD - Orthopedic Surgery, Orthopedic Trauma

References
Citations
  1. Abram SGF, et al. (2020). Arthroscopic partial meniscectomy for meniscal tears of the knee: A systematic review and meta-analysis. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 54(11): 652–663. DOI: 10.1136/bjsports-2018-100223. Accessed June 6, 2021.
  2. Stein T, et al. (2010). Long-term outcome after arthroscopic meniscal repair versus arthroscopic partial meniscectomy for traumatic meniscal tears. American Journal of Sports Medicine, 38(8): 1542–1548. DOI: 10.1177/0363546510364052. Accessed September 15, 2021.
You may want to have a say in this decision, or you may simply want to follow your doctor's recommendation. Either way, this information will help you understand what your choices are so that you can talk to your doctor about them.

Meniscus Tear: Should I Have Surgery?

Here's a record of your answers. You can use it to talk with your doctor or loved ones about your decision.
  1. Get the facts
  2. Compare your options
  3. What matters most to you?
  4. Where are you leaning now?
  5. What else do you need to make your decision?

1. Get the Facts

Your options

  • Have surgery to treat a meniscus tear.
  • Don't have surgery. Use home treatment and physical therapy to treat your knee.

Key points to remember

  • Your decision about surgery depends on the pattern of the tear, its size, and your age. Your health and activity level can also affect your treatment options.
  • There are two kinds of surgery for a meniscus tear. One kind repairs the tear by sewing it back together. The other kind removes part or all of the meniscus.
  • Surgery works better for certain types of tears. It may not be as helpful for other types. Your doctor can help you understand how well surgery or home treatment might work for you.
  • You may want to have surgery if your knee pain is too great or if you are unable to do daily activities.
  • Surgery to repair a tear may help you reduce the risk of other joint problems, such as osteoarthritis.
  • Nonsurgical treatment for a tear includes rest, ice, compression, and propping up your leg on a pillow when you sit or lie down. You may take over-the-counter medicines to relieve pain and swelling. Your doctor may recommend a rehab program that will probably include physical therapy and home exercises.
FAQs

What is a meniscus tear?

A meniscus tear is a common knee injury. The meniscus is a rubbery, C-shaped disc that cushions your knee. Each knee has two menisci (plural of meniscus)—one at the outer edge of the knee and one at the inner edge. The menisci keep your knee steady by balancing your weight across the knee. A torn meniscus can prevent your knee from working right.

How is a meniscus injured or torn?

A meniscus tear is usually caused by twisting or turning, often with the foot planted while the knee is bent. These tears can occur when you lift something heavy or play sports. As you get older, your meniscus gets worn. This can make it tear more easily.

If you are older, you may not know what you did to cause the tear. Or you may only remember feeling pain after you got up from a squatting position, for example. Pain and slight swelling are often the only symptoms.

What happens when you have a meniscus tear?

What happens depends on the size of the tear, its location, and your symptoms. It also depends on whether your knee was healthy when the tear happened or if your knee already had age-related changes.

Tears caused by an injury in younger people may heal over time with rest and physical therapy. Surgery is often used for large tears. That's because they can lead to long-term problems if they aren't repaired.

When the tear is in a knee that has age-related changes, symptoms may be helped by rest, physical therapy, and time. In some cases, a doctor may suggest surgery.

How is a torn meniscus treated?

There are two basic types of treatment for a torn meniscus—nonsurgical treatment and surgery.

  • With nonsurgical treatment, you use rest, ice, compression, and elevation, and you have physical therapy. You may wear a knee brace for a short time.
  • With surgery, you can have one of the following:
    • Surgical repair to sew the tear together.
    • Partial meniscectomy, which is surgery to remove the torn section of the meniscus.
    • Total meniscectomy, which is surgery to remove the entire meniscus.

Your doctor will likely suggest the treatment that they think will work best for you based on where the tear is, what the pattern of the tear is, how big it is, and how old you are. Your health and activity level may also affect your treatment options.

When possible, meniscus surgery is done using arthroscopy instead of open surgery. During arthroscopy, your doctor puts a lighted tube with a tiny camera—called an arthroscope, or scope—and surgical tools through small incisions.

Surgery has risks, including infection, a blood clot in the leg, damage to nerves or blood vessels, and the risks of anesthesia. After surgery you may still have pain and joint stiffness.

How well does surgery work?

Surgery to repair a tear in the meniscus can relieve pain and improve knee function. Surgery may also help prevent long-term complications, such as osteoarthritis. 2

Meniscus repair may be most successful: 2

  • In younger people.
  • If the tear is near the outer edge of the meniscus, where there is better blood supply.
  • If the tear is small.
  • If the tear was caused by sudden trauma and not by wear and tear.
  • If the repair is done soon after the injury.

Surgery to remove part of the meniscus (meniscectomy) is better at keeping your knee stable than surgery to remove all of the meniscus. Partial removal also allows a quicker and more complete recovery than total removal.

Removing the whole meniscus typically reduces some symptoms. But losing the meniscus reduces the cushioning and stability of the joint. Most people, especially if they are young or active, are not satisfied with a total meniscectomy. This is why surgeons try to remove as little of the meniscus as possible.

Studies have shown that a partial meniscectomy may improve knee pain in people who don't have arthritis in their knee. This surgery is not likely to help if you already have arthritis. 1

What can you do instead of surgery for a torn meniscus?

Instead of surgery, you may try rest, ice, compression, and elevation. You may wear a knee brace. You can try over-the-counter medicine such as ibuprofen or naproxen to help with pain and to reduce swelling.

If you have ongoing pain after trying these nonsurgical treatments, you can work with your doctor to plan a rehab program that helps you regain as much strength and flexibility in your knee as possible. Your rehab program probably will include physical therapy and home exercises.

Why might your doctor recommend surgery?

Your doctor may recommend surgery because:

  • You still have pain after trying other treatment, such as rest and physical therapy.
  • Your knee "locks up" instead of working normally.
  • You may be able to reduce the risk of future joint problems (osteoarthritis).
  • You are an active person.
  • Your knee has a good chance of healing with surgery.

2. Compare your options

Have surgery for a torn meniscus Don't have surgery
What is usually involved?
  • You have surgery to fix or remove the meniscus. In most cases, you will go home on the same day as the surgery.
  • Either type of surgery is followed by rehabilitation that includes rest, walking, and doing exercises until you have full range of motion without pain.
  • It may take weeks or months before you can go back to your daily activities after surgery.
  • You try rest, ice, compression, and elevation.
  • You may wear a knee brace.
  • You try over-the-counter medicine such as ibuprofen or naproxen to help with pain and swelling.
  • You may have a rehab program with physical therapy and home exercises.
What are the benefits?
  • Surgery may relieve pain and improve knee function.
  • How well surgery works depends on many things, including your age, the cause of the tear, and the size and location of the tear.
  • Surgery to repair tears may reduce the risk of long-term joint problems.
  • You may be able to relieve pain and return your knee to normal.
  • You avoid surgery that you may not need.
  • You avoid the risks of surgery.
  • You might be able to have surgery later if your symptoms don't get better.
What are the risks and side effects?
  • You may still have pain and joint stiffness after surgery.
  • Surgery has risks, such as:
    • Infection.
    • Damage to nerves or blood vessels around the knee.
    • Blood clots in the leg.
    • Damage to the joint.
    • Risks from anesthesia.
  • Your age and your health can also affect your risk.
  • You may still have pain, or your pain may get worse.
  • You may not have full use of your knee.

Personal stories

Personal stories about meniscus tear surgery

These stories are based on information gathered from health professionals and consumers. They may be helpful as you make important health decisions.

"I've had quite a bit of pain on one side of my knee for a couple of weeks, but my symptoms have decreased. My doctor thinks that my meniscus may be healing on its own. I'm still seeing my doctor, though, and I've started rehabilitation with a physical therapist. He's got me going through range-of-motion and knee strengthening exercises at home. I don't think I'll need surgery."

— Jose, age 41

"A few months ago, I started having pain in my right knee when I would move it certain ways. My doctor examined my knee and asked me about my symptoms. He diagnosed a tear in my meniscus. A follow-up MRI confirmed it. I've been doing rehabilitation, but it's been 2 months and I've still got pain, particularly if I twist my knee at all. The orthopedic surgeon thinks that I may have a flap or piece of the torn meniscus moving in the knee, which is giving me a lot of problems with my knee locking. He's recommending surgical repair, and I am going to go ahead with the surgery."

— Will, age 63

"I injured my knee about a month ago in a tennis game. It didn't take my doctor long to diagnose a meniscus tear, and I'm going to have an arthroscopic test to see just how much I've damaged the knee. The surgeon says she can do repairs in the same procedure. My mother has severe osteoarthritis, and I believe that my knee may develop early arthritis if I don't get this tear taken care of. The arthroscopic surgery makes sense to me."

— Alondra, age 32

"I am a serious athlete and this isn't my first injury. But this is the first time I've had to think about surgery. I've had bad pain in my knee fairly constantly since I twisted it in the gym a few weeks ago. It's particularly bad if I bend or flex my knee. The surgeon says that the MRI shows a large tear in the inner part of my meniscus, and that's the part that doesn't heal well. He's recommending a partial meniscectomy to remove the damaged tissue. He says that he'll only have to remove a small part of the meniscus and I'll still have stability in the knee, and hopefully no more pain! I'm going to have the surgery next week."

— Marlon, age 30

3. What matters most to you?

Your personal feelings are just as important as the medical facts. Think about what matters most to you in this decision, and show how you feel about the following statements.

Reasons to have surgery

Reasons not to have surgery

I want to do whatever I can to fix my knee.

I want to wait and see if my knee gets better before I have surgery.

More important
Equally important
More important

I think surgery will help me feel better.

I don't think surgery will help me feel better.

More important
Equally important
More important

I think surgery may help me avoid long-term joint problems.

I don't want to have surgery for any reason.

More important
Equally important
More important

I accept the risks of surgery.

I feel that surgery is too risky for me.

More important
Equally important
More important

My other important reasons:

My other important reasons:

More important
Equally important
More important

4. Where are you leaning now?

Now that you've thought about the facts and your feelings, you may have a general idea of where you stand on this decision. Show which way you are leaning right now.

Having surgery

NOT having surgery

Leaning toward
Undecided
Leaning toward

5. What else do you need to make your decision?

Check the facts

1. My treatment for a torn meniscus will depend on more than just how I hurt my knee.

  • True
  • False
  • I'm not sure
You're right. Your treatment for a torn meniscus depends on the pattern of the tear, its size, and your age. Your health and activity level can also affect your treatment options.

2. Surgery works better for certain types of tears.

  • True
  • False
  • I'm not sure
You're right. Surgery works better for certain types of tears. It may not be helpful for other types. Your doctor can help you understand how well surgery might work for you.

3. Surgery to repair a tear may help me avoid long-term joint problems.

  • True
  • False
  • I'm not sure
You're right. Surgery to repair a tear may be able to prevent long-term joint problems, such as osteoarthritis.

Decide what's next

1. Do you understand the options available to you?

2. Are you clear about which benefits and side effects matter most to you?

3. Do you have enough support and advice from others to make a choice?

Certainty

1. How sure do you feel right now about your decision?

Not sure at all
Somewhat sure
Very sure

2. Check what you need to do before you make this decision.

  • I'm ready to take action.
  • I want to discuss the options with others.
  • I want to learn more about my options.
Credits
By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer William H. Blahd Jr. MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
Primary Medical Reviewer Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Primary Medical Reviewer E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine
Primary Medical Reviewer Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Primary Medical Reviewer Patrick J. McMahon MD - Orthopedic Surgery
Primary Medical Reviewer Heather Quinn MD - Family Medicine
Primary Medical Reviewer Kenneth J. Koval MD - Orthopedic Surgery, Orthopedic Trauma

References
Citations
  1. Abram SGF, et al. (2020). Arthroscopic partial meniscectomy for meniscal tears of the knee: A systematic review and meta-analysis. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 54(11): 652–663. DOI: 10.1136/bjsports-2018-100223. Accessed June 6, 2021.
  2. Stein T, et al. (2010). Long-term outcome after arthroscopic meniscal repair versus arthroscopic partial meniscectomy for traumatic meniscal tears. American Journal of Sports Medicine, 38(8): 1542–1548. DOI: 10.1177/0363546510364052. Accessed September 15, 2021.

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