Meniscus transplant

A meniscus transplant (also called meniscal allograft transplantation) is the replacement of the meniscal cartilage in the knee. A surgeon removes badly damaged meniscus tissue from the knee and replaces it with new meniscus tissue from a tissue donor—a person who chose to donate tissue for medical purposes after death.

What is the meniscus?

Two kinds of cartilage protect the knee joint: articular cartilage that lines the bone and provides cushion, and meniscal cartilage, also known as the meniscus. The meniscus is flexible cartilage tissue in the knee shaped like the letter C. Each of your knees has two menisci that form a ring in the center of the joint where the bones meet. This ring of meniscus tissue works like a shock absorber in your knee, protecting the bone in your lower leg from the weight of your body. Healthy meniscus tissue also helps to keep your knee joint stable.

How does the meniscus get damaged?

A torn meniscus is one of the most common types of knee injury and is often caused by forceful twisting or rotating of the knee. Athletes who play contact sports are at risk for tearing the meniscus, either by twisting the knee or by taking a direct hit to the knee. Work or household activities can also tear the meniscus, such as lifting a heavy weight while squatting.

A torn meniscus can cause knee pain and swelling, and it can make the knee lock or catch while it’s moving.

When is a meniscus transplant needed?

When a meniscus tear is severe, a surgeon may try to repair it or trim it to remove the damaged parts. Sometimes the meniscus is so badly damaged that most or all of it needs to be removed. In those cases, the doctor may recommend a meniscus transplant, especially if the patient can no longer walk without pain.

Transplanting new meniscus tissue into the knee can relieve pain and make the joint more stable. A transplant may also help prevent arthritis from forming in the knee.

How is a meniscus transplant performed?

A meniscus transplant can be performed using knee arthroscopy, in which the surgeon makes small cuts around the knee and inserts a tiny camera and surgical tools instead of cutting open the whole knee joint.

After the old meniscus is removed, the new meniscus is prepared to fit inside the joint. The new meniscus tissue, which comes from a donor, is tested in a lab in advance for infection or disease.

The new meniscus is put into the knee joint and is held into place with stitches or, in some cases, screws.

What happens after meniscus transplant surgery?

The patient will probably wear a brace and use crutches for about six weeks. To get the knee back to full strength and full range of motion, the patient may go through about four to six months of physical therapy.

Many meniscus transplant patients return to a pain-free life within a few months of surgery.

Last reviewed: 
December 2018

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