Meniscus tear arthritis is a real fear for many patients. After all, the knee meniscus is a spacer that helps to protect the joint, so if it’s torn that means more arthritis, right? Not so fast. Recent research has called into question whether meniscus tears are as important as we once thought they were. An entire industry of hospitals, surgeons, staff, and hardware manufacturers have grown around the concept that when a meniscus tear is found on MRI, alarms should sound and a surgeon with a scalpel should drop out of the ceiling waiting to operate and “fix” the “problem”. The problem is that taking out torn pieces of meniscus likely makes knee arthritis worse. So what happens if you just leave the tear? Meaning, will a common meniscus tear naturally lead to knee arthritis? The answer based on the largest (Knee Osteoarthritis Initiative Study) knee arthritis data set is likely NO. There was not a higher number of meniscus tears found in patients with arthritis when compared to age, sex, and body weight matched control patients without knee arthritis. Basically the only type of meniscus issues that are associated with arthritis are those where the meniscus is so badly mangled that it extrudes outside the joint (no longer functioning as a shock absorber at all). The upshot? Find conservative ways to treat a meniscus tear either through physical therapy or other means like platelet rich plasma or stem cells. Knee meniscus surgery has been shown to be no better than physical therapy in the short run and all of the data (as well as common sense) points in the direction that knee surgery will cause more knee arthritis in the long run. So if you have a meniscus tear don’t freak out and assume you will develop meniscus tear arthritis! Instead focus on the things you can do to prevent arthritis.
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