Recovery From Knee Surgery

I apologize for not writing a longer introduction this week. A weekend of trauma call and other sports events kept me away from my laptop more than I would like. There are some exciting new features coming in the next few weeks, so stay tuned and keep reading!

This week’s Ask Dr. Geier column looks at recovery from surgery and trying to get back to sports. While the answer varies with the surgery and the sport or activity of that patient, the question is very common in sports medicine. As always, please keep my disclaimer about my inability to discuss specific medical information in mind.


Rebecca in Grand Rapids, Minnesota asks:

3 weeks ago I had surgery on my knee to what the surgeon thought was a torn medial meniscus. She gets to the point where she was going to get the scope in and she couldn’t get it in because my plica was so big that it was blocking my entire knee from view with the scope. She removed the plica of course. My entire knee was swollen and it was acting like something was torn for over 3 months. My question is since the surgeon had to mess with my kneecap a lot how long will it be before I will be able to dance? The doctor said 3 months. Is that a good estimate?

Recovery from knee surgery can often take longer than most patients think. This observations seems to true whether the surgery involves trimming out a meniscus tear, resecting a plica, or other arthroscopic procedures. While the underlying problem is treated and better within a few days, it can take weeks or even months for the swelling to completely resolve and motion and strength to return to normal before the athlete actually gets back to sports.

Plicae within the knee are usually treated nonoperatively. Occasionally I will resect a plica when I am doing a surgery for another problem, such as a meniscus tear. Even then, I usually leave plicae that I find incidentally unless it appears swollen and inflamed. In these cases, I am afraid that the plica could continue to serve as a problem even after the patient has recovered from the meniscus surgery or whatever procedure I went in to perform.

Resection of the plica usually does not add much to the procedure. Occasionally it causes a little more swelling than one might expect from a meniscus surgery. This increased swelling could cause some increased quad weakness early on. Having said that, I think aggressive efforts to decrease swelling and regain range of motion, especially if the athlete works postoperatively with a physical therapist, should have the athlete back to sports in 6-12 weeks. Often the athlete is cleared to play sooner than that, but maximum medical improvement can take months to reach.

20 Responses to Recovery From Knee Surgery

  1. I had meniscus repair surgery five years ago, I am able to carry-on an active lifestyle for my age, which is 62. My doctor tells me that I have osteoarthritis in the knee that was repaired, my question is: after 20 to 40 minutes of walking, the back my knee gets stiff and occasionally a sharp pain runs down my knee toward my ankle. Is this normal, and if so is it alright to use anti-inflammatory pain medicine? Is the pain in the back of the knee possibly due to swelling? And if so, what are some possible solutions? Thanks

    • It is hard to say. Surgery to smooth out arthritis changes does not make the cartilage new again, so often patients develop pain related to it again at some point. NSAIDs, activity modification, injections and more are usual treatments for it.

  2. I just had a partial meniscectomy for a bucket handle tear in my medial meniscus on the 18th of this month it has been exactly a week to the day since the surgery and they did the nerve block on my leg. My question concerning this is I am still experiencing numbness in my upper thigh,is this normal or something I should be concerned over?

    • Generally blocks wear off in 12-72 hours, but it depends on the medication and whether it is a single-shot block or if a catheter was placed. Your anesthesiologist should be able to give you guidance.

  3. 5 months ago I had surgery on both knees. I had some lateral meniscus removed on both knees. I had total medial meniscus removal on both knees and the plica resected on both knees. I was in a car accident 4 years ago when my knees took a beating. Where I live it took this long to get things diagnosed and done.My problem is I can not do any kind of a squat or go on my knees at all. my knees are swoollen and hurt all the time.I accept this for now and believe it is what it is. It is almost impossible to get back to see the ortho who did it. My question is do you think knee replacements would help now with eliminating some pain or would something else that you think would be worth exploring. I realize your comments are only that. Just want some feedback from you not a diagnosis. thanks

    • I think knee replacements are an options for people with significant pain from degenerative changes within the knee joint. Your doctor or another one would have to determine if your pain is coming from significant arthritis.

  4. 14 year old daughter had plica surgery in September 2014. Completed PT, No sports until Feb 2015. Started tennis and running track. No issues until March 28, 2015. After running at track, knee pain and swelling. Still swollen after ice and antiinflammatories. Is this normal following surgery or should we be concerned about “new” issue with knee

    • Generally pain and swelling resolve within 1-3 months after knee arthroscopy, but every patient is different. It is never a bad idea to see the orthopaedic surgeon that did a patient’s surgery to ensure that no serious problem is present.

  5. Hi, I’m a 19 year old male and I am 3 weeks post op partial lateral meniscectomy. My swelling is still fairly prevalent, and have experienced a problem which is preventing me making decent progress.
    About 5 days post op I suddenly felt a small pea size lump protrude out of my skin when I flexed my knee and is located 1cm above one of my lateral portals. This still hasn’t gone down. It only occasionally pops up and usually when I jerk my knee quite quickly. I can get near full flexion when I flex slowly but can feel this lump in the knee and can occasionally “push” it down when it rises up. It is moderately painful.

    I was told that the surgeon tried to repair my mensicus 4 times but eventually abandoned this and decided to perform the meniscetomy instead. As a result my surgery took over an hour. Could this be a reason for this lump to appear. Haven’t been able to contact my surgeon

    • I’m not sure I can explain what a lump like that would be without seeing it, but your surgeon should be able to explain it.

  6. Hi. I had an arthroscopy on December 23rd 2014 to repair a medial tear in my meniscus. I am 60 years old and a runner and circuit trainer. The surgeon was pleased with the operation and showed me pictures very like the ones in your helpful video. However, I still have pain in my knee – particularly lateral movement and it doesn’t bend fully. I can run and squat but I’d only give it 5 or 6/10. It aches after exercise and can hurt in certain twisting positions.
    I have had physio and took things steady in the first few weeks. Have I torn it again or could the operation have missed some of the tear? I am going to see the consultant this week to ask his advice as I just don’t feel happy with the outcome. The MRI scan showed no arthritis and my knee is in good condition for my age and level of activity.
    Do you think I am right to go back or, given my age, do I just accept the limited mobility and occasional pain?



    • It is hard to know if you have a new tear, but the surgeon or another one could examine your knee and help you figure it out. Generally i think the goal of surgery is to allow the patient to return to whatever activity he or she likes to do regardless of age.

      • Hi Dr Geier,
        I went back to my surgeon last week and he said there is no point in doing another arthroscopy as they had found grade 2/3 arthritis in my knee(which hadn’t shown up on the MRI scan.) Instead, he gave me a cortisone injection, which seems to help a little. So, for my knee, it’s a case of managing any pain and modifying activity. Hope this helps.

  7. Hello,

    I had a partial meniscectomy on 8/12/15. I work as a manager in a high volume retail store, and was wondering what you thought a “projected” time to return to work would be? I work 5, 8 hour days each week and am constantly on the floor helping customers, stocking shelves, etc… In other words, not a desk job.

    Thank you,


    • I think that many patients return to work within 2-4 weeks after that surgery, although all patients are different. The demands of a job can influence the time as well.

  8. Hi I sent you a post a few months ago about having double knee surgery lateral meniscus taken out of both knees total medial taken out of both and plica taken out. Eventially I did heal up not as well as I wanted but that’s life. My ortho said knee replacements are just machines and doesn’t like to do them on someone my age 53. He says being machines they will wear out. He suggested gel shots and see if the pain reliefs some before thinking about knee replacements. I had the gel shots in both knees one knee it went in fairly good although a little painful going in. The other one it went in slow and very painful. I almost passed out.I limped out to my vehicle and had to use crutches for a week. I am still limping although it is better. I know you will say to go see him which I will when he has an opening. I don’t think it is anything serious. My question is what are your feelings with these gel shots and have you heard of a reaction happening like mine. Oh yea my knee has some fluid that is obvious above the knee which I find odd as he injected it below the knee cap

  9. I had plica removal almost a year ago, and everything has been fine since. I have recently joined the springboard diving team at my college, and so I have been doing a lot more jumping than ever before. I am very afraid of my knees becoming like they were before again… My knee started to hurt after practice a few days ago, and it has not gone away. Its not nearly as bad as the pain before the surgery though. I am not sure if I should ignore it, and it will be fine or if I should go see the athletic trainer? Is it worth it to go to the trainer, or am I probably just being paranoid?

  10. I had literal meniscus removal a week ago my knee still really swollen an my muscles are tight around the knee which makes walking difficult. My surgeon said I’m suppose to beable to walk without crutches at this point I still need one for stability any recommendations on how to make it so I can walk without crutches

  11. In 2010 I had ACL repair as well as meniscus repair due to playing high competitive soccer. A year ago I tried to get back into playing soccer and my knee just couldn’t tolerate it. (I went to PT to strength my legs before jumping back into it) I got it checked out and I ended up having surgery in Oct/2016 to repair a small LM tear, chondroplasty and a Cyclops legion underneath my knee cap removed. Its now 5 months later, still in PT and I am unable to run. Still have discomfort in the muscles surrounding my knee. My butt and quad is still weak. Let me preface this as to say I am an active 27 year old female and do my PT regularly. Thoughts or comments on this?

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