Meniscus surgery removes or fixes the cartilage (meniscus) between the bones in the knee. Each knee has two of these rubbery pads of cartilage, one on either side. Meniscus repair is usually done with arthroscopic surgery. Your doctor put a lighted tube—called an arthroscope or scope—and other surgical tools through small cuts (incisions) in your knee. The incisions leave scars that usually fade in time.
You will feel tired for several days. Your knee will be swollen. And you may have numbness around the cuts the doctor made (incisions) on your knee. You can put ice on the knee to reduce swelling. Most of this will go away in a few days. You should soon start seeing improvement in your knee.
You may be able to return to most of your regular activities within a few weeks. But it will be several months before you have complete use of your knee. It may take as long as 6 months before your knee is strong enough for hard physical work or certain sports. You will need to build your strength and the motion of your joint with rehabilitation (rehab) exercises. In time, your knee will likely be stronger and more stable than it was before the surgery.
How soon you can return to sports or exercise depends on how well you follow your rehab program and how well your knee heals. Your doctor or physical therapist will give you an idea of when you can return to these activities. If you had a partial meniscectomy, you might be able to play sports in about 4 to 6 weeks. If you had meniscus repair, it may be 3 to 6 months before you can play sports.
This care sheet gives you a general idea about how long it will take for you to recover. But each person recovers at a different pace. Follow the steps below to get better as quickly as possible.
How can you care for yourself at home?
- Rest when you feel tired. Getting enough sleep will help you recover. Sleep with your knee raised, but not bent. Put a pillow under your foot.
- Keep your leg raised as much as possible for the first few days.
- You may shower 24 to 48 hours after surgery, if your doctor okays it. When you shower, keep your bandage and incisions dry by taping a sheet of plastic to cover them. If you have a brace, take it off if your doctor says it is okay. It might help to sit on a shower stool.
- You will be able to stand if you have a brace or use crutches. Do not put weight on your leg until your doctor says you can. You can move around the house to do daily tasks.
- If you have a brace, leave it on except when you exercise your knee or you shower. Be careful not to put the brace on too tight. You will use it for about 2 to 6 weeks.
- If your doctor does not want you to shower or remove your brace, you can take a sponge bath.
- Wait 2 weeks or until your doctor says it is okay before you take a bath, swim, use a hot tub, or soak your leg.
- You can drive when you are no longer using crutches or a knee brace, are no longer taking prescription pain medicine, and have some control over your knee. This usually takes 1 to 6 weeks.
- How soon you can return to work depends on your job. If you sit at work, you may be able to go back in 1 to 2 weeks. But if you are on your feet at work, it may take 4 to 6 weeks. If you are very physically active in your job, it may take 3 to 6 months.
- You can eat your normal diet. If your stomach is upset, try bland, low-fat foods like plain rice, broiled chicken, toast, and yogurt. Drink plenty of fluids.
- You may notice that your bowel movements are not regular right after your surgery. This is common. Try to avoid constipation and straining with bowel movements. You may want to take a fiber supplement every day. If you have not had a bowel movement after a couple of days, ask your doctor about taking a mild laxative.
- Your doctor will tell you if and when you can restart your medicines. You will also get instructions about taking any new medicines.
- If you stopped taking aspirin or some other blood thinner, your doctor will tell you when to start taking it again.
- Be safe with medicines. Take pain medicines exactly as directed.
- If the doctor gave you a prescription medicine for pain, take it as prescribed.
- If you are not taking a prescription pain medicine, ask your doctor if you can take an over-the-counter medicine.
- If your doctor prescribed antibiotics, take them as directed. Do not stop taking them just because you feel better. You need to take the full course of antibiotics.
- If you think your pain medicine is making you sick to your stomach:
- Take your medicine after meals (unless your doctor has told you not to).
- Ask your doctor for a different pain medicine.
- If you have a bandage over your incisions, keep the bandage clean and dry. Follow your doctor's instructions. Some doctors want to see you before you take it off, while others may let you take it off 48 to 72 hours after your surgery.
- If you have strips of tape on the incisions, leave the tape on for a week or until it falls off. Keep the area clean and dry.
- Rehab exercises are an important part of your treatment. Your first exercises will help you improve your knee's movement and regain your muscle strength.
Ice and elevation
- Put ice or a cold pack on your knee for 10 to 20 minutes at a time. Try to do this every 1 to 2 hours for the next 3 days (when you are awake). Put a thin cloth between the ice and your skin. If your doctor recommends using a cold therapy machine, follow the instructions that came with the machine.
- For 3 days after surgery, prop up the sore leg on a pillow when you ice it or anytime you sit or lie down. Try to keep it above the level of your heart. This will help reduce swelling.
- If your doctor gave you support stockings, wear them as long as instructed.
Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.
When should you call for help?
Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:
- You passed out (lost consciousness).
- You have severe trouble breathing.
- You have sudden chest pain and shortness of breath, or you cough up blood.
Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:
- You have pain that does not go away after you take pain medicine.
- You have loose stitches, or your incisions come open.
- Bright red blood has soaked through the bandage over your incision.
- You have signs of infection, such as:
- Increased pain, swelling, warmth, or redness.
- Red streaks leading from the incision.
- Pus draining from the incision.
- Swollen lymph nodes in your neck, armpits, or groin.
- A fever.
- You have signs of a blood clot, such as:
- Pain in your calf, back of the knee, thigh, or groin.
- Redness and swelling in your leg or groin.
Watch closely for any changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:
- You feel a catching or locking in your knee.
- You are sick to your stomach or cannot keep fluids down.
- You have swelling, tingling, pain, or numbness in your toes that does not go away when you raise your knee above the level of your heart.
- You do not have a bowel movement after taking a laxative.
Where can you learn more?
Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd
Enter H324 in the search box to learn more about "Meniscus Surgery: What to Expect at Home".
Current as of: November 9, 2022
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:William H. Blahd Jr. MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine & Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine & Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine & Patrick J. McMahon MD - Orthopedic Surgery