The meniscus is often described as the knee’s “shock absorbers.” That’s because they are a piece of cartilage providing a cushion between the thigh bone (femur) and shin bone (tibia). Each knee joint has two menisci. Their purpose is to help equally distribute the body’s weight, protecting and extending the life surrounding cartilage.
A meniscus can be torn or damaged during any activity that puts pressure on or rotates the knee joint. Younger people are likely to experience sports related traumatic tears. However, as a person ages, the cartilage in the knee becomes weaker and thinner, and is more prone to tears from simple activities of daily living.
Generally, when a meniscus tear occurs, a popping sound is heard around the knee joint. Afterwards, many people experience pain (especially when the area is touched), swelling, difficulty moving the knee or inability to fully move it, a feeling of the knee locking or catching, and a feeling the knee is giving way or unable to support you.
Meniscus tears are actually quite common. In fact, about 700,000 Americans undergo a meniscectomy (meniscus surgery) annually. Many others have the condition and choose not to move forward with surgery. Decades ago the entire meniscus was removed on the belief that it would grow back, and when it didn’t a total replacement was undertaken.
Today, the standard approach is to remove only the torn section of the meniscus through a partial meniscectomy and leave the healthy tissue. The arthroscopic surgery is performed through two small incisions on the knee.
There have been many advances in technology which have progressed to a less invasive surgery resulting in quicker recovery time. However, even with today’s advances, the symptoms go away and the patient has 5-10 years of relief, but the loss of even part of the meniscus can accelerate the onset of arthritis.
A new development of a tissue-engineered meniscus replacement has been announced. It consists of a biodegradable polymer that has been submerged in collagen and hyaluronic acid and weaved into the shape of a meniscus. The sponge-like device is inserted into the knee where it fully dissolves and stimulates the body to rebuild new meniscal tissue naturally.
The dissolvable polymer is strong enough to bear the pressure between the two bones while stimulating the body to grow a new meniscus in its place. The new meniscus is not comprised of scar tissue – rather it is neo-meniscal tissue. For many people with meniscal injuries this would eliminate the need for a future knee replacement.
This technology, which will be marketed under the name “MeniscoFix” is not yet available to the general public. It is scheduled for clinical trials in the next two years and will be commercially available within 5-7 years. This new technology will allow doctors to tailor treatment to the patient’s specific type of tear and employ the least invasive method for the best outcome.Back to Blog