One of the most common knee injuries is damage to the meniscus, which is the piece of cartilage that stabilizes the knee joint and acts as a shock absorber. There are two of these in each knee, and they’re prone to tears resulting from everything from sports injuries to old age.
While a younger person might tear his or her meniscus in a rough game of contact sports, all it takes in many senior individuals is a “wrong” twist of the knee, as the tissue weakens with age.
As one might expect, a torn meniscus can be quite painful and interfere considerably with normal physical activities. While physicians often initially prescribe physical therapy to see if the tears improve over time, a well-accepted method of treatment is surgery, usually a meniscectomy. Although many patients are led to believe their knee tissue is being repaired, the most common method for this surgery involves straight-out removal, cutting out the torn pieces of cartilage.
Meniscectomy – Problematic, over-prescribed, ineffective and frequently unnecessary
Although surgery is a common solution—it’s been proven not to be the best one in the vast majority of cases. In addition to varying levels of results, the surgical procedure can even lead to making matters much worse.
Many studies exist showing a direct correlation between meniscectomies and an increased onset of arthritis in the knee. The reason for this is logical: The meniscus is there specifically to protect the knee joint, and so removing parts of it simply makes the joint more vulnerable.
If that sounds scary, it certainly isn’t good news. One prominent study showed that 60% of patients who had pieces of their meniscus surgically removed showed signs of knee arthritis within just a few years. That can lead to more surgeries on the knee—and even a full knee replacement down the line.
The prognosis is even more glum for older patients, as previously noted: Meniscal tissue in seniors is already lower in strength due to age and normal wear and tear. Surgery essentially will be weakening an already weakened structure. And younger patients aren’t promised a perfect outcome, either. While youthful tissue has better strength, there is still the possibility that compromising the joint could lead to premature issues much sooner down the line than anyone would desire.
Alternatives to Meniscus Surgery
So, what is the alternative to potentially damaging surgery that evidence shows may not even be effective to begin with? The popularity of the surgical procedure is so widespread it may seem as if there are very few other options for relieving pain and mobility issues resulting from this particular knee injury. Nobody wants to live a life in which everyday activities—let alone favorite recreational pursuits and athletic hobbies—are compromised.
However, there is this to consider: Given that meniscus tissue clearly serves a protective function—even when damaged–it seems that the best practice is to leave the tissue in place and attempt to treat its damaged areas using non-surgical methods.
Patients with knee issues should consult with their doctors and, if indicated, attempt a period of rest and/or physical therapy before deciding upon surgery. Another important step is to research regenerative procedures. These non-surgical procedures can be used to treat a wide range of knee injuries and conditions, reduce pain, and even delay knee replacements.
Regenerative medicine is a fairly new field, but one that is attracting some of the most advanced minds in healthcare. In short, the procedures involve working with the body’s own self-healing properties. Since medicine and medical treatments are essentially enhancements to the body’s natural blueprint for survival and healing, regenerative procedures begin at the source—which is the way nature intended.
Physicians harvest the body’s own self-healing cells and use them to augment areas of the body that are injured or degenerating. This process can help heal tissues that are suffering from trauma, overuse, age, or disease.
As an illustrative point to the benefits of regenerative cell harvest procedures: Surgical meniscus repair by and large is most successful on younger patients—those under 30 years of age. Why is this? It’s very simple. Younger bodies have more stem cells in their joints, which assist naturally with repair and recovery!
As patients age, their joints (again, naturally) decline in these healing cells. Therefore, by utilizing regenerative procedures supplementing aging joints with these cells—from the patient’s own body—a most positive outcome can be assisted.
There are many other benefits to these procedures besides the obvious reparation. Unlike invasive surgery, regenerative procedures do not result in scarring, recovery time can be much more rapid (some physicians have seen healing times up to 50% shorter than those from surgery), and patients can resume their regular activities again.
Regenerative medicine can be applied successfully to many other common orthopedic issues, including such conditions as tendonitis, lower back pain, plantar fasciitis, and more. It’s very important for those who are considering regenerative medicine to be sure that a qualified physician, meeting a slate of specific requirements, is consulted.
At GetRegenerative, we simplify this process by providing a directory of top regenerative orthopedic specialists searchable by area. We encourage potential regenerative medical patients to research these professionals, as well as our library of information regarding specific regenerative procedures and methods.