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Will a torn MCL cause arthritis in later years?

Q: When I was 16, I tore the medial meniscus in my right knee and had it surgically removed. I've had knee problems ever since. Now my 17-year-old son has done the same thing. Will he be doomed to arthritis like his old man?

A: Not necessarily though all the data from long-term studies isn't in yet. What we do know is that meniscal repair (rather than removal) is done whenever possible. The important role of the meniscus in sharing the joint load and as a shock absorber and knee stabilizer has been well-documented.

Having some understanding of the healing rates and long-term results of surgery for this age group has helped surgeons advise and counsel young patients. The location, type, and extent of meniscal injury is important even for younger athletes.

To their advantage is the fact that the quality of the cartilage before injury is usually very good and they have more of a blood supply to that area than adults typically do. Both of those factors aid in a faster recovery during the healing process.

Meniscal tears in teens is on the rise with more and more sports participation. Even so, long-term data (10 to 20 years after injury and treatment) are not available yet. Short-term results are very favorable after arthroscopic repair. Eighty (80) per cent are symptom-free with no signs of joint degeneration seen on X-rays.

Most athletes return to their preinjury level of play within six months' time. Continuation of sports participation may be an additional factor in the final results (i.e., what happens to the knee over time) but future studies are needed to follow this more closely before we will know for sure.

Reference: Kelly L. Vanderhave, MD, et al. Meniscus Tears in the Young Athlete: Results of Arthroscopic Repair. In Journal of Pediatric Orthopaedics. July/August 2011. Vol. 31. No. 5. Pp. 496-500.