What to expect after meniscal repair surgery?
Depending on the technique used during the meniscus repair surgery, patients will be advised not to bear weight on their knee for some time. This may last for several weeks. To make daily life easier, patients will be given a mobility aid like crutches to use during this period. They will also be given advice on how to gradually reduce the amount of time they use them as they recover.
The Knee Brace
Patients may be required to wear a brace on their knee for between four to six weeks after surgery, especially if other knee repairs were performed on the knee. Wearing the brace helps ensure the knee only flexes a certain amount and prevents injury. The surgeon or physiotherapist will set this brace, and it is very important patients do not alter the settings themselves. Patients will be given guidance on how to perform day-to-day activities with the brace, for example, using stairs, the ideal sleeping posture, and how to bathe.
A physiotherapy programme will be individually designed for the patient and their needs after meniscus repair surgery. This will likely last between two and six months. This programme is vital to how the patient recovers and how well the knee functions long term.
Patients will likely have gentle exercises to do at home before physiotherapy starts. These may include things like walking with a mobility aid. A typical physiotherapy programme begins one or two weeks after surgery. Rehabilitation after a meniscectomy (removal of the menisci) is often intensive to ensure the internal structures of the knee are not over-protected as they heal. Some programmes may also include hydrotherapy; meaning exercises are performed in a pool to reduce strain on the joint.
Course contents will vary depending on your needs, but all physiotherapy programmes focus on:
- Building strength in the leg muscles
- Ensuring the knee’s range of movement as good as possible
- Keeping you and your knee active
Wound Care, Ice Packs, and Wound Dressings
Patients will have a wound dressing and a bandage on the knee when they wake up from surgery. It is vital that patients keep these clean and do not get them wet or remove them themselves. Wounds are usually closed with stitches or staples. If staples or non-dissolvable stitches are used, patients will be given an appointment to see the surgeon 7 to 14 days later to have them removed. Sterilised wound tape is often used after this to support the skin as it heals completely. Patients may be advised to apply ice packs or special ice dressings to the knee after surgery to help reduce swelling. Take care not to keep ice in contact with the bare skin.
Showering and Bathing
Patients may be advised to use a special plastic cover on the leg when they shower to prevent the wounds on the knee from getting wet. Patients will likely be advised not to wash their wounds until they are healed. After this point, often gentle soap and clean water are all that is needed to clean them. Carefully pat (never rub) wounds dry with a clean towel after bathing.
Patients will likely experience some pain and discomfort after the meniscus repair surgery. This is normal after a surgical procedure, and patients will be given advice on how to manage the pain. Patients may be given medication to take home or be advised on the best pain relief to use as they recover.
The First 24 Hours After Surgery
It is normal to experience some pain both after surgery and during recovery, but this should ease over time. The surgeon will give you advice on what pain relievers are suitable as patients may need to avoid ibuprofen and similar drugs because of bleeding risk.
Surgery can be quite tiring emotionally and physically, so it is normal to feel tired and out of sorts for some time after. Anaesthesia, especially general anaesthesia, may add to these feelings as it can take several days to ensure the effects are completely worn off.
Going Home After Surgery
Some patients are able to go home on the day of surgery, but others may need to stay a night in the hospital. As anaesthesia can affect judgement and coordination for up to 48 hours after surgery, patients must arrange for someone to take them home from the hospital and to stay with them for at least the first 24 hours.
Children and Pets
After this, patients will likely need a friend or family member to help take care of any dependents such as children or pets for some time because mobility will be limited.
To help prevent blood clots, patients will be advised on special exercises and be fitted for compression socks. Some people may need injections to help thin the blood. The patient or someone who is caring for them will be shown how to do this. Elevation and icing is a vital part of recovery, and patients will be given an icing schedule to follow.
Time Off Work
When patients go back to work will depend largely on the kind of meniscus surgery they had and what kind of work the patient does. For a sedentary position that mainly involves sitting at a desk, patients may be able to return after two to three weeks. More strenuous jobs that involve standing or walking may require a four to six-week break. Jobs involving manual work, physical labour, or a long journey to work may need to be avoided for anywhere between three to six months.
Sports and Exercise
The length of time it takes to return to sports, or physical activity varies from person to person and is largely dependant on the type of meniscus surgery performed. A period of three to six months is expected for a typical patient. Elite athletes may need to take 8 to 12 months or longer to return to competitive training.