If you are an active person, just the thought of a major knee injury might make you wince.
The most common minor knee injuries are meniscus tears, the cartilage around the knee that act as a cushion to the knee joint. Meniscus injuries tend to happen with sudden stops, twists, pivots, or awkward landings from a jump.
“A meniscus tear typically isn’t as severe as a ligament injury, but most of the time, it will still need to be repaired through arthroscopic surgery,” explains orthopedic surgeon Dr. Matthew Hess.
Recovery time for meniscus tear repairs is often as little as three to four weeks.
An ACL tear is often a large setback with a long recovery, but it doesn’t have to be a game-changer. Your ACL is one of four main ligaments—tough, fibrous tissue—that connect the thigh and lower leg bones. Tears to the ACL don’t usually involve collisions or another contact. They tend to happen like meniscus tears with sudden movements or awkward landings.
You may hear a popping sound when it happens, and your knee may feel like it’s about to buckle or give out. Your doctor may be able to tell if you have an ACL injury by examining your knee, but you might also need an imaging test like an MRI. Within 24 hours, the injured knee may become swollen and unsteady when you walk.
“Nowadays, ACL repair is a state-of-the-art outpatient surgery,” says Dr. Hess. Typically a torn ACL is not stitched together. Instead of working through small incisions, the surgeon removes the torn ligament and replaces it with a graft. The graft usually comes from a piece of the patella tendon in your leg.
Recovery from ACL surgery often takes at least six months but can take up to a year. The recovery period usually involves knee rehabilitation. Programs are tailored to each person’s needs and sometimes even a particular sport.
A knee replacement is the most major of surgeries to repair the knee. A knee replacement is needed when the knee joint becomes bone-on-bone and severe pain is present during normal movement. Oftentimes, someone with past knee injuries will develop advanced degenerative arthritis, and the need for a knee replacement will follow.
Dr. Hess says, “The knee replacement is the most involved of knee surgeries. Because the knee joint itself is completely replaced.”
The recovery time can be several months, but Dr. Hess says, “The biggest thing with knee replacements is people who couldn’t do normal functions because of severe pain are now pain-free and can get around without any issue.”
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