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Meniscal allograft transplantation

Meniscal allograft transplantation is a type of surgery in which a meniscus -- a cartilage ring in the knee -- is placed into your knee. The new meniscus is taken from a person who has died (cadaver) and donated his or her tissue.

If your doctor finds that you are a good candidate for a meniscus transplant, x-rays of your knee are usually taken to find a meniscus that will fit your knee. The donated meniscus is tested in the lab for any diseases.

Other surgeries, such as ligament or cartilage repairs, may be done at the time of the meniscus transplant or with a separate surgery.

You will likely receive general anesthesia before this surgery. This means you will be asleep and unable to feel pain. Or, you may have regional anesthesia. Your leg and knee area will be numbed so that you do not feel any pain. If you receive regional anesthesia, you will also be given medicine to make you very sleepy during the operation.

During the surgery:

  • The meniscus transplant is usually performed using knee arthroscopy . The arthroscope is inserted into your knee through a small incision. The scope is connected to a video monitor in the operating room. 
  • The surgeon inspects the cartilage and ligaments of your knee, confirming that a meniscus transplant is appropriate, and that you don't have severe arthritis of the knee.
  • The new meniscus is prepared to fit your knee correctly.
  • If any tissue is left from your old meniscus, it is removed.
  • An incision is made in the front of your knee to insert the new meniscus.
  • The new meniscus is sutured in place. Another incision may be needed to sew the meniscus in place. Screws or other devices may be used to hold the meniscus in place.

After the surgery is finished, the incisions are closed. A dressing is placed over the wound. During arthroscopy, most surgeons take pictures of the procedure from the video monitor to show you what was found and what was done.

Alternative Names

Meniscus transplant

Why the Procedure Is Performed

Two cartilage rings are in the center of each knee, one on the inside (medial meniscus) and one on the outside (lateral meniscus). When a meniscus is torn, it is commonly removed by knee arthroscopy . Some people can still have pain after the meniscus is removed.

A meniscus transplant places a new meniscus in the knee where the meniscus is missing. This procedure is only done in cases of meniscus tears that are so severe that all or nearly all of the meniscus cartilage is torn or has to be removed. The new meniscus can help with knee pain and possibly prevent future arthritis.

Meniscus allograft transplantation may be recommended for knee problems such as:

  • Inability to play sports or other activities
  • Knee pain
  • Knee that gives way
  • Unstable knee
  • Persistent knee swelling

Risks

Risks of any anesthesia are:

  • Allergic reactions to medications
  • Problems breathing

Risks for meniscal transplant surgery are:

  • Bleeding
  • Infection
  • Nerve damage
  • Stiffness of the knee
  • Failure of the surgery to relieve symptoms
  • Failure of the meniscus to heal
  • Tear of the new meniscus
  • Disease from the transplanted meniscus
  • Pain in the knee
  • Weakness of the knee

Before the Procedure

Tell your health care provider what medicines you are taking. This includes medicines, supplements, or herbs you bought without a prescription.

During the 2 weeks before your surgery:

  • You may be asked to stop taking medicines that make it harder for your blood to clot. These include aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), naproxen (Naprosyn, Aleve), and other medicines.
  • Ask your health care provider which medicines you should still take on the day of your surgery.
  • If you have diabetes, heart disease, or other medical conditions, your surgeon will ask you to see your doctor who treats you for these conditions.
  • Tell your health care provider if you have been drinking a lot of alcohol, more than 1 or 2 drinks a day.
  • If you smoke, try to stop. Ask your health care provider or nurse for help. Smoking can slow wound and bone healing.
  • Tell your doctor about any cold, flu, fever, herpes breakout, or other illness you may have before your surgery.

On the day of surgery:

  • You will likely be asked not to drink or eat anything for 6 to 12 hours before the procedure.
  • Take the medicines your health care provider told you to take with a small sip of water.
  • Your health care provider will tell you when to arrive at the hospital. Be sure to arrive on time.

After the Procedure

Follow any discharge and self-care instructions you are given.

After the surgery, you will probably wear a knee brace for the first 6 weeks. You will need crutches for 6 weeks to prevent putting full weight on your knee. You will likely be able to move the knee right after surgery. Doing so helps prevent  stiffness. Pain is usually managed with medications.

Physical therapy can help you regain the motion and strength of your knee. Therapy lasts for between 4 and 6 months.

How soon you can return to work depends on your job. It can take from a few weeks to a few months. It can take 6 months and a year to fully return to activities and sports.

Outlook (Prognosis)

Meniscus allograft transplantation is a difficult surgery, and the recovery is hard. But for persons who are missing the meniscus and have pain, it can be very successful. Most people have less knee pain after this procedure.

References

Brockmeier SF, Rodeo SA. Knee: Meniscal injuries. In: DeLee JC, Drez D Jr, Miller MD, eds. DeLee and Drez's Orthopaedic Sports Medicine. 3rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa.: Elsevier Saunders; 2009:chap 23, section B.

Packer JD, Rodeo SA. Meniscal allograft transplantation. Clin Sports Med. 2009;28:259–283.

Updated: 4/16/2013

C.Benjamin Ma, MD, Assistant Professor, Chief, Sports Medicine and Shoulder Service, UCSF Department of Orthopaedic Surgery. Also reviewed by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc., Editorial Team: David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, Stephanie Slon, and Nissi Wang.


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