This week, the top passer in the NFL, Pittsburg Steelers' superstar Ben Roethlisberger, joined the ranks of many as he underwent arthroscopic knee surgery for a torn cartilage. I predict a very speedy and full recovery. Too bad for the other teams in the NFL including my hurting Philadelphia Eagles.
Arthroscopic knee surgery is one of the most commonly performed surgical procedures in the United States. It has become a right of passage for not only top athletes but also weekend warriors, baby boomers and even many couch potatoes. As surgeries go, it is relatively minor, but should always be taken seriously. It is done as an out patient, under anesthesia (usually general/sleep or spinal), with tiny buttonhole incisions. It involves minimal pain, crutches for a few days, and usually a pretty quick recovery.
In Roethlisberger's case, it was a torn cartilage or meniscus that was removed. Each knee has two menisci, one on the inner or medial side of the knee (medial meniscus) and one on the outer or lateral side (lateral meniscus). They are both C-shaped rubbery shock absorbers that are important for knee function including shock absorption and stability. Once torn, especially in younger active individuals, they usually need surgery. Diagnosis is usually made with a good physical exam and confirmed with an MRI.
Surgery for torn cartilage is extremely common. Options are to either remove the torn portion of the cartilage (trying to preserve as much as possible) or, when possible on select type tears, repair and save the meniscus. Most meniscal tears unfortunately are not repairable, but when they are, every attempt should be made to preserve and save this important structure. Repair can be done through the scope. The torn meniscus is either stitched or even secured with tiny bio-absorbable tacs. The recovery for meniscal repair is much much longer than if a piece is removed. This is because the meniscus is a very slow healing tissue with limited blood supply. With removal (like Roethlisberger) you can be back in action in weeks. With meniscal repair, it takes months for full recovery.
You can prevent knee injuries by keeping your leg (and core area) strong, and keeping your weight down. Fortunately when injury strikes, we have the technology to get you back in the game, even if you don't have a multi-million dollar contract.