This 2014 review published by The National Library of Medicine states that most meniscus tears in adults can be treated with a physical therapy program, but even if they do require surgery at some point they have the same outcomes as though they were treated with surgery initially. In other words, physical therapy alone may resolve the symptoms – or if surgery is performed, there is no detriment in having waited.
Treatment options for meniscal tears fall into three broad categories; non-operative, meniscectomy or meniscal repair. Selecting the most appropriate treatment for a given patient involves both patient factors (e.g., age, co-morbidities and compliance) and tear characteristics (e.g., location of tear/age/reducibility of tear). There is evidence suggesting that degenerative tears in older patients without mechanical symptoms can be effectively treated non-operatively with a structured physical therapy programme as a first line. Even if these patients later require meniscectomy they will still achieve similar functional outcomes than if they had initially been treated surgically. Partial meniscectomy is suitable for symptomatic tears not amenable to repair, and can still preserve meniscal function especially when the peripheral meniscal rim is intact. Meniscal repair shows 80% success at 2 years and is more suitable in younger patients with reducible tears that are peripheral (e.g., nearer the capsular attachment) and horizontal or longitudinal in nature. However, careful patient selection and repair technique is required with good compliance to post-operative rehabilitation, which often consists of bracing and non-weight bearing for 4-6 wk.
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