The native human knee consists of the articulating surface of the femur (thigh bone), tibia (shin bone), and the patella (knee cap). Each surface is covered with a smooth, frictionless bearing surface called hyaline cartilage. Two menisci, one medial and one lateral, function as ‘shock absorbers’ for the knee and separate the femur and tibia. Their primary role is to protect the cartilage of both the femur and tibia during normal knee motion.
Twisting injuries can tear the menisci, compromising the protection the menisci offer the cartilage; this can lead to increased wear of the cartilage surface. Meniscal surgery of the knee is a relatively common surgery and can involve removing torn meniscal tissue or attempting to repair torn tissue and returning it to its original alignment. These surgeries can be successful in allowing patients to return to their normal level of function and active lifestyle.
Some meniscal injuries are beyond repair and require the complete removal of the injured meniscus. In young, active patients with normal cartilage, a meniscal transplant using a cadaver meniscal graft can offer a viable alternative to complete meniscal removal and protect and preserve the cartilage of the knee for years or decades to come. Meniscal transplants are much less common than standard meniscal resections or repairs, but they offer an effective alternative to complete removal for young patients. Unlike organ transplants, the patient does not require life-long medications to suppress the immune system. Following surgery and rehabilitation, the patient can return to his or her prior active lifestyle.
Meniscal transplant surgery can be done as an outpatient operation, meaning the patient is not required to spend the night in the hospital. Following surgery, the patient will be on crutches for six weeks and complete recovery will take almost a year; however, a successful meniscal transplant should provide pain free, normal knee function. This procedure has been successfully preformed on professional athletes and we have over 20-years of follow up with patients who have excellent function and preserved cartilage in the knee following meniscus transplants.
Not all patients are candidates for a transplant, and several other factors must be considered including knee stability, alignment, and pre-existing cartilage injuries. For the right patient, a meniscal transplant can allow a young patient to return to his or her level of high activity while protecting the cartilage and preventing early arthritis or the need for a possible knee replacement early in life.
For more information on meniscal transplantation, schedule an appointment with one of our joint preservation surgeons by calling 888-660-2663 or fill out the appointment request box.