Understanding Meniscal Transplant Surgery

Meniscal transplant surgery is done to replace a small piece of missing or damaged cartilage in the knee. The meniscus is replaced with one from a cadaver donor.

What is the meniscus?

Your knee has two wedge-shaped pieces of cartilage, one on each side of your knee. Each of these pieces is called a meniscus. These rubbery menisci act as shock absorbers between your thigh bone (femur) and your shin bone (tibia). The menisci help protect the ends of your femur and tibia as they move together.

A twisting injury may badly damage your meniscus. If the damage is bad enough, your meniscus may need to be removed. Without this meniscus cushion, the ends of your tibia and femur may start to rub together. Over time this can cause knee pain and arthritis.

Why meniscal transplant surgery is done

Meniscal transplant surgery may be done if your meniscus was taken out in a previous surgery. With no meniscus, you may develop knee pain and arthritis of the knee joint. Replacing the meniscus may give you pain relief. It may also help prevent arthritis. This surgery is less invasive than knee replacement surgery. Meniscal transplant surgery may not be a choice if you already have arthritis of your knee.

Meniscal transplant surgery may be a choice if you:

  • Are age 55 or younger

  • Are missing more than half your meniscus, or have a large meniscus tear that can’t be repaired

  • Have severe or ongoing knee pain with activity

  • Have an unstable knee

  • Have no or only a small amount of arthritis

  • Have a knee with normal alignment and stable ligaments

  • Are not obese

How meniscal transplant surgery is done

Your surgery will be done by orthopedic surgeon. The surgery can be done in several ways. The surgeon will make a small cut (incision) through the skin and muscle of your knee. He or she will put a very small camera through this incision. This is used to help guide the surgery. Any remaining meniscus is removed with very small tools put through the incision. The surgeon will sew the donated meniscus into the joint space with stitches (sutures). Screws or other devices may be used to hold the meniscus in place.

Risks of meniscal transplant surgery

All surgery has some risks. The risks of this surgery include:

  • Stiffness of the joint after surgery (more common)

  • Incomplete healing and need for another surgery

  • Too much bleeding

  • Infection

  • Damage to nearby nerves

  • Problems from anesthesia

  • An infection from the donated tissue (extremely rare)

Your own risks may be different based on your age, overall health, and other factors. Ask your healthcare provider about the risks that most apply to you.