Getting Real about Meniscus Surgery

Asking patients about their pain or symptoms after meniscus surgery doesn't always give a complete picture of their recovery. A recent study showed that after three months, patients reported that their pain and symptoms had improved--but their capabilities, activity levels, and quality of life hadn't.

The authors first wanted to get a picture of what doctors expected from recovery after meniscus surgery. They asked 17 surgeons how long it should take patients to recover. Answers varied between two and 12 weeks. The surgeons were also asked what made recovery time longer. Opinions on this topic varied as well. Most surgeons felt that an accompanying injury to ligaments or articular cartilage lengthens recovery time. Others thought that tears in the lateral meniscus, gender, and a longer period of time from injury to surgery could make a difference. One doctor even reported that not being physically active before surgery made the recovery time slower.

The authors then submitted questions to 79 patients who underwent meniscus surgery. This is the first study using specialized surveys to measure patients' activity levels, quality of life, and ability to function both before and after surgery. The patients answered the surveys before surgery and 14 weeks after surgery.

Results showed that most patients had improved knee movement, swelling, and pain. However, the researchers were startled by the patients' lack of activity after surgery. Only 30% of patients were active in sports after the surgery, compared to 63% who were active before surgery. Almost 40% reported that they were sedentary after surgery, compared to only 9% before the surgery.

As some surgeons predicted, people with injured articular cartilage and those with significant problems before their surgeries ended up with lower quality of life scores three months after the surgery. But factors like gender, age, and a longer period of problems before surgery didn't seem to have any impact.

In the final analysis, the authors suggest that having less pain and symptoms doesn't necessarily tell the whole story about the recovery process. Measurements of function, quality of life, and activity levels gave a much better idea about how patients were doing after surgery. The authors conclude that these types of surveys should be used for patients undergoing meniscus surgery. And based on the results of this study, the authors feel that patients should be given a more realistic idea of what to expect after meniscus surgery.

Reference: 

Ewa Roos, PT, PhD, et al. Substantial Disability Three Months After Arthroscopic Partial Meniscectomy: A Prospective Study of Patient-Relative Outcomes. In Arthroscopy. September 2000. Vol. 16. No. 6. Pp. 619-626.

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