What is a Meniscus?
The meniscus is a rubbery and tough cartilage which is shaped like the alphabet “C.” (1, 3)
What is the Function of Meniscus?
The meniscus performs as a shock absorber between the thighbone and shinbone in case of any accidents.(1, 2, 3) A torn meniscus can occur when someone falls down and twists their knee.(1) This is one of the common injuries,(4) but the question is can you survive without a meniscus? Can you walk without a meniscus? And the answer is Yes, you can!
Can You Walk Without A Meniscus? Studies and New Hope:
When someone’s meniscus had to be removed, then it doesn’t mean the end of their active life! Never give up hope, even when there is no shock absorber in your knee; even if you are suffering from medical issues, such as arthritis as a result and are unable to walk without having pain. Even with all this you can still have a functional knee. There is even a chance of getting back to your old rigorous activities and continue to stay active in the future too. Many people go for artificial knee replacement in such cases; however, not many know that it is possible to rebuild the knee naturally by using a donor tissue to replace the missing meniscus and regenerate the destroyed articular cartilage to help with the arthritis.
A study of 49 patients(5) including athletes with arthritis and knee pain after removal of meniscus and who were active in various sports, such as rugby, football, squash etc. and all these patients had donor tissue to replace their meniscus along with repair of the articular cartilage. These patients were observed over a period of years and it was found that about three quarter of these patients were able to resume their active life with their meniscus transplant and enjoy all their previous activities without any pain. These patients suffered from arthritis when they had their meniscus replacement and cartilage repair and after getting the donor tissue in place of their torn meniscus, most of them were able to recover and also able to get back to their sports activities for at least a decade and a half.
This data is vital, as it reveals important information and challenges the conventional thinking that articular cartilage cannot be repaired due to it being the joint’s bearing surface and having few cells and zero blood supply. Also the meniscus cartilage being the knee’s shock absorber was not thought to be replaceable; especially in an injured knee as the rough surfaces from the damage would result in failure of the meniscus transplant.
The old belief was once you have lost the meniscus as a result of knee injury and had developed osteoarthritis as a result, there was nothing much that can be done except having a total knee replacement. This belief has caused millions of patients to live with pain and bide their time until they are eligible for a knee replacement.
However, the questions asked by the about 48 years old patients, who asked their doctor to just put some kind of shock absorber in their knees, as they didn’t want knee replacement and were eager to get back to sports and other activities is what made the experts thinking of an alternative way to knee replacement.
The studies done included a unique repair technique of the articular cartilage, which involved using the patient’s own articular cartilage, bone marrow and stem cells that were actually crushed into a paste. Once the arthritic regions within the knee were aerated, the above crushed paste was used to pack into the interstices and holes in the bone. When there was any motion or movement, then this paste formed the cartilage repair tissue. After sterilization of the donor meniscus cartilage, it was transplanted into the patient’s knee to replace the shock absorption function. The combination of a new shock absorber and the articular cartilage repair tissue did the magic, which allowed many high-level sportsmen to get back to their athletic activities after years of not doing them.
This study is not only encouraging for patients who are athletes and suffer from arthritis after the removal of meniscus and are sad that their active days are over, but it should also inspire and help any patient who needs to have their meniscus removed after they have been injured to replace with a new meniscus to prevent the formation of arthritis.(6)
With meniscus replacement, one hopes to avoid their patients getting stuck between the time of their arthritis diagnosis and the only treatment option thought to be available for them, which was a complete total knee replacement.
So, thanks to the advancement of the new biologic methods for rebuilding and re-growth along with the validation of the long-term data of these techniques, many patients have a new hope of getting their knee pain treated without having to wait for artificial joint replacement. So, you can walk and live without your meniscus and do all the physical activities, which you did before. It’s not over yet.
- Stone KR, Pelsis JR, Surrette ST, et al. 2014. Meniscus transplantation in an active population with moderate to severe cartilage damage.Knee Surg. Sports Traumatol. Arthrosc. doi: 10.1007/s00167-014-3246-4.
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