Knee injuries are quite common.
Estimates are that they are responsible for more than 1 million surgeries every year.
About 650,000 of those are arthroscopic meniscal procedures.
Considering that in particular these meniscal procedures can leave the knee in an unstable condition (the re-operation rate for post-meniscectomy procedures may be up to 29%) this is a very high number.
Fortunately, for some patients, regenerative medicine may help provide knee joint pain relief without painful and invasive surgery.
What Causes Knee Pain?
In order to understand why it’s so important to find alternatives to surgery for knee joint pain relief, it’s worth first understanding where the pain comes from in the first place, and the knee’s anatomy.
One of the most frequently injured components is the meniscus, a fibrocartilagionous, crescent-shaped structure which is actually divided into two specific parts: the medial and lateral menisci.
These menisci give the knee its structural integrity, while delivering lubrication and nutrition to the articular cartilage and shock absorption to the structure as a whole when moving around. A number of ligaments also work with the mensci in tandem, in order to prevent overextension.
The menisci can get damaged in two ways: gradual overuse and acute injury. Tears tend to be the most common form of injury. The trouble with the meniscus is it’s poorly vascularized — it has limited blood flow. (Just 10-25% of the meniscus has a direct supply of blood.) If the area is injured, the chances of an internal, natural repair are limited. The other areas cannot heal from injuries at all.
Identifying A Meniscal Tear
Patients who suffer a meniscus tear as a result of trauma or sudden injury experience immediate, sudden pain, often accompanied by a kind of pop. If the tear is the result of overuse and ongoing stress, the pain will tend to be less obtrusive. It simply increases in time.
For both cases, the injury is usually accompanied by some swelling and an overall reduction in mechanical function and mobility. Meniscal tears are often also accompanied by popping, clicking, or locking in the knee joint.
Though many patients decide to seek help as a result of overt symptoms like these, a surprising number of patients have torn menisci yet don’t realize it. One study found that 60% of patients whose knees got an MRI scan showed a meniscal tear, though they didn’t have the symptoms.
As a result, patients who have an MRI for knee pain come back with a mensical tear may have had the tear silently for 20 years or more — yet their doctors may recommend surgery.
Healing The Knee Without Surgery
Ultimately, the problem with surgery is that it cannot change the lack of a blood supply to the meniscus. The surgery does not allow the body to heal itself, so surgeries often result in more pain, instability, and degeneration.
Instead, PRP or stem cell therapy may be able to help with knee pain, and do it without surgery. PRP therapy in particular delivers to the damaged or torn meniscus an ‘extra dose’ of the things it needs: healing factors like platelets, which allow the meniscus to heal itself.
Best of all, this procedure does not require a hospital visit or any physical therapy for recovery. Regenerative techniques can often be done on a same-day, in-office basis.