Ask Dr. Geier – 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.

6 Responses to Ask Dr. Geier – 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.

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david-headshot I am an orthopaedic surgeon and sports medicine specialist in Charleston, South Carolina.

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