Recovering from meniscus surgery is generally a straightforward process. People like to compare themselves to others and wonder why they may not be progressing as well. There are many, many issues at play here.
First off, as stated elsewhere on this site, not every torn meniscus will require surgery. However, if in fact yours does, then you’re probably wondering what to expect in terms of your recovery from meniscal tear surgery during the days and weeks after the procedure.
The issues that will affect your recovery from meniscus surgery include some variables which are under your control, some of which are under your surgeon’s control, and some which are dictated by the type of tear you have.
Key factors that will influence meniscal tear recovery after surgery
There are many factors that will determine how quickly, or completely you recover from your meniscal tear surgery. Key elements include your age, weight, and activity demands. The older you are, the heavier you are, the longer your recovery will be. The type of surgery you had will also impact upon your recovery. In some cases we only remove the torn piece — in general you will progress faster than someone who had sutures placed to repair the meniscus tear.
Whether or not arthritis was found at the time of your meniscus surgery will significantly influence your recovery from meniscus surgery. If you have arthritis then you are missing some or all of the cartilage on the ends of the bones. Knees with arthritis are prone to being more “cranky” during the recovery process. Many patients note they feel better wearing a compression sleeve during recovery. People with arthritis sometimes report improvement in their symptoms with Glucosamine, or Hyaluronic Acid which they believe (not proven) will smooth out the surface of the joint. Many try Tart Cherry juice because of its natural anti-inflammatory properties.. In the first few months following surgery, a knee compression sleeve does actually help many feel better.
Some of the variables are under your surgeon’s control. We can improve your immediate response after surgery with the use of various medications we inject within the knee before the surgery. We can also block a nerve on the side of your leg which will improve your pain for 18-24 hours after surgery.
In general, young, healthy active people with no evidence of osteoarthritis will experience a more rapid recovery. Typically measured in days or a few weeks. Most people are off crutches in a day, and stop taking pain medicine within a day or two. In contrast, if you are a older, heavier and have arthritis as well as a meniscus tear, then you may take longer to recover — and may not experience a “full” recovery. This group can take weeks to months to improve.
To ensure a good response to surgery, we also need to look at your health before surgery. Smoking leads to an increased infection rate and poorer healing. Diabetics with poor sugar control are at higher risk for infection and delays in healing as well. Obesity is a potential problem with anesthesia, the recovery from surgery and it may lead to more rapid progression of arthritis after surgery.
Movement of the knee is encouraged during recovery from your meniscal surgery
After surgery you may be hesitant to get up and move about. Some of you might like how a compression sleeve feels and minimizes your swelling. No matter how hesitant, you should actually be encouraged to move around as much as tolerated. This is important because it minimizes muscle atrophy, minimizes the risk of blood clots, and helps your lungs recover from the anesthesia. However, there are also some limitations to be expected. For example, if you had a meniscus repair surgery we may ask you to use crutches and avoid deep squats or pivoting and twisting on that leg for a few weeks. But if you simply had the piece cleared out of the knee, then you can resume fairly normal activities as tolerated. Be sure to check with your physicians first — then you will find these videos on quadriceps knee exercises and these hamstring exercises useful.
After surgery, the meniscal tear recovery experience is uniquely yours
If I scope 10 people on the same day for the same problem, I will hear about 10 different responses and recovery rates when I take your sutures out a week later. So, don’t push it… when your body is ready to resume activities after meniscus surgery you will know. Most important of all… listen to the instructions given to you by your surgeon.