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Open Access Review

Meniscal pathology - the evidence for treatment

Veronica Mezhov, Andrew J Teichtahl, Rupert Strasser, Anita E Wluka and Flavia M Cicuttini*

Author Affiliations

Department of Epidemiology and Preventive Medicine, School of Public Health and Preventive Medicine, Monash University, Alfred Hospital, Melbourne, VIC 3004, Australia

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Arthritis Research & Therapy 2014, 16:206  doi:10.1186/ar4515

Published: 20 March 2014

Abstract

Whilst arthroscopic surgery for the treatment of meniscal tears is the most commonly performed orthopaedic surgery, meniscal tears at the knee are frequently identified on magnetic resonance imaging in adults with and without knee pain. The evidence for arthroscopic treatment of meniscal tears is controversial and lacks a supporting evidence base; it may be no more efficacious than conservative therapies. Surgical approaches to the treatment of meniscal pathology can be broadly categorised into those in which partial menisectomy or repair are performed. This review highlights that the major factor determining the choice of operative approach is age: meniscal repair is performed exclusively on younger populations, while older populations are subject to partial menisectomy procedures. This is probably because the meniscus is less amenable to repair in the older population where other degenerative changes co-exist. In middle-aged to older adults, arthroscopic partial menisectomy (APM) may treat the meniscus tear, but does not address the degenerative whole organ disease of knee osteoarthritis. Thus far, there is no convincing evidence that operative approaches are superior to conservative measures as the first-line treatment of older people with knee pain and meniscal tears. However, in two randomised controlled trials (RCTs) approximately one-third of subjects in the exercise groups had persisting knee pain with some evidence of improvement following APM, although the characteristics of this subgroup are unclear. From the available data, a first-line trial of conservative therapy, which includes weight loss, is recommended for the treatment of degenerative meniscal tears in older adults. The exception to this may be when mechanical symptoms, such as knee locking, predominate. Although requiring corroboration by RCTs, there is accumulating evidence from cohort studies and case series that meniscal repair rather than APM may improve function and reduce the long-term risk of knee osteoarthritis in young adults. There is no clear evidence from RCTs that one surgical method of meniscal repair is superior to another.