A long-term study shows that athletes who have their meniscus cartilage removed can have their knee restored and recover well enough to return to sport, even if they had already developed osteoarthritis.
The research, carried out by the Stone Research Foundation in San Francisco, involved 49 highly active patients who had a badly damaged meniscus and severe cartilage damage and needed a meniscus transplant.
Prior to their injury, all of the participants were former athletes who had competed in sports such football, rugby, ice hockey, wrestling, squash, badminton, track and field events or downhill skiing. Each patient was also keen to get back to sport after his or her surgery.
All of the patients had their meniscus replaced with donor tissue, and 41 also had a procedure to repair the damage to their articular cartilage.
After surgery, the patients followed a rigorous rehabilitation programme and were contacted for follow-up at regular intervals for up to 15 years. Each patient was asked if they were still enjoying function improvements and pain relief from the meniscus transplant. Patients also completed a questionnaire on the status of their knee.
Results showed that the procedure provided significant improvement in pain and function levels in the medium- to long-term, and the majority of patients achieved their goal of participation in sports post-surgery.
The researchers concluded that meniscus transplantation is a viable surgical option for patients with severe cartilage damage and missing or irreparable menisci.
This study challenges current medical thinking that it´s not advisable to have a meniscus transplant if you have arthritis, and that it´s not possible to return to sports, they said.
The findings of the study have been published in the journal of Knee Surgery, Sports Traumatology, Arthroscopy.