A meniscus transplant is a surgical procedure to replace a damaged or missing meniscus. The meniscus is a C-shaped piece of cartilage that cushions and protects the knee joint. Recovery time is usually about a month. But you may need to take a break from some sports and activities for up to a year to give your knee time to heal completely.
A meniscus replacement is surgery to replace a damaged or torn meniscus. The meniscus is a C-shaped piece of cartilage in the knee. You have two of them (menisci) in each knee, one on the inside and one on the outside. These rubbery pieces of cartilage cushion the knee joint and protect the leg bones as they move.
Providers also call this procedure meniscal allograft transplantation (MAT). Allograft tissue comes from a human donor. For this procedure, providers use a meniscus from a cadaver (deceased donor). Researchers are also studying the use of a prosthetic (human-made) meniscus.
A meniscal transplant replaces damaged cartilage, relieves knee pain and improves the way the knee works. It can also prevent osteoarthritis from developing early in life.
Recovery time is usually about a month or two. To give your knee time to heal properly, you may need to take a break from strenuous sports and some physical activities for up to one year.
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A meniscus replacement isn’t right for everyone. To determine if you qualify for this procedure, your provider will consider several factors, including:
Knee injuries in adolescents are common, especially during sports. Usually, the meniscus tears when someone twists the knee suddenly. If the damage is severe, providers may recommend removing the torn meniscus and replacing it with a healthy one.
Your provider may recommend this procedure if your meniscus is severely damaged or if you had your meniscus removed (meniscectomy) after a previous injury. Sometimes providers remove a meniscus if the damage is so severe that they can’t repair it. Living without a meniscus can increase your risk of osteoarthritis and chronic (long-term) knee pain.
A torn or injured meniscus can also lead to osteoarthritis. This condition happens when other cartilage in the knee wears away, causing pain and stiffness. A meniscal transplant can prevent or delay osteoarthritis from developing. But this procedure will not help people who already have knee pain from arthritis.
For this procedure, providers use a meniscus from a human donor (cadaver). After removing it from the donor, providers freeze the meniscus to preserve it. Prior to surgery, providers test the meniscus for disease and measure its size and shape. They carefully select a meniscus that will fit properly into your knee.
To prepare for surgery, your provider will:
You have a meniscus transplant in an outpatient surgery center or a hospital. Right before your procedure, your provider will give you general anesthesia to put you to sleep. You won’t feel pain during knee surgery.
Surgeons usually perform a meniscus transplant using a common procedure called knee arthroscopy. Your provider inserts a tiny camera through a small incision. The camera shows images of the inside of your knee on a screen in the operating room.
Using the images as a guide, your provider inserts tiny tools into another incision. Your provider removes any part of the meniscus that’s still in the knee and puts the healthy meniscus in place. They use sutures (stitches) or screws to connect the meniscus to the shinbone and the knee joint capsule.
Your provider uses stitches to close your incisions. They wrap your knee with a bandage or dressing.
Ask your provider when you can go home after surgery and how to care for your incision. You may be able to go home the same day, or you may need a short stay in the hospital. As you recover, you’ll need to use crutches for about four to six weeks. You’ll also need to stabilize your knee in a brace to avoid moving it.
Meniscus surgery recovery includes rest and physical therapy (PT). When you’re ready, your provider will recommend a customized PT program. Special exercises and stretches will strengthen the muscles around your knee and improve your range of motion.
Because a meniscus transplant is a minimally invasive procedure, it requires less recovery time than traditional (open) surgery. A meniscus transplant can help younger, physically active people return to activities without pain. It can also help prevent osteoarthritis from developing as a result of a damaged meniscus.
Complications from a meniscus transplant are rare. As with any surgery, risks include bleeding and infection. After the procedure, some people have:
The outlook for meniscus transplants varies. A successful meniscus transplant depends on several factors, including:
Ask your provider when you can return to the activities you enjoy. Most people need to rest and stay off their feet as much as possible for about two weeks after meniscus transplant surgery. To give your new meniscus time to heal properly, you may need to take a break from sports or strenuous activities for six to 12 months.
Call your provider if you have:
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Meniscus transplant surgery can help active people move without knee pain. It can also prevent osteoarthritis from developing. This procedure isn’t right for everyone. Ask your provider if a meniscus transplant is the best option for you. Before surgery, tell your provider about any medications you take. While you’re recovering from a meniscus transplant, follow your provider’s instructions carefully. Give yourself plenty of time to rest so you can fully heal.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 06/10/2021.
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