HEALTH: Ask Dr. Olsen

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Thank you for your questions. This one comes from Mary! Thanks Mary for starting this conversation about a health issue that gives trouble to many of us. If you have a question, fill out the form after Dr. Olsen’s answer.

Dear Dr. Olsen,

Health question: I had a meniscus tear removed arthroscopically about 10 years ago. The last couple of years, in the same leg, I have had a stinging sensation at night, like an electrical shock going down my leg. The only relief I get is to stretch out in bed. Occasionally my foot will jerk. Is this coming from my knee or is this related to something else?

Dear Mary,

ToddOlsen (1)Arthroscopy of the knee with a partial meniscectomy is a common procedure. As you will remember, the meniscus is a ring-shaped cartilage that helps to disperse the pressure in the knee created with all walking and running activities. However, if the meniscus is torn, it can be a source of pain, popping, swelling and can cause difficulty with normal daily activities. Not all meniscus tears need surgery, but if the tear continues to be symptomatic, then surgical removal of the torn part of the meniscus is indicated.

The surgery itself, arthroscopy of the knee with partial meniscectomy, is a straightforward procedure usually associated with a quick recovery and return to full activity. However, osteoarthritic changes in the knee are commonly present along side meniscus tears. Osteoarthritis is very different from a meniscus tear. By definition, osteoarthritis is degeneration and thinning of the articular cartilage on the end of the bone that can also be a source of aching, pain, swelling and difficulty with activity. Arthritis can not be cured by arthroscopy of the knee.

In all likelihood, the symptoms you have described are the result of progressive osteoarthritis in your knee. Osteoarthritis is not a dangerous process, but if the symptoms are now to the point that it is time to do something about it, the next step would be a set of x-rays and a physical examination to arrive at an accurate diagnosis to explain your symptoms. If osteoarthritis of the knee is the correct diagnosis, then next steps could include anti-inflammatory medication, knee injections, strengthening exercises, knee bracing, and activity modification. Some studies also show possible benefits to increasing the consumption of anti-inflammatory foods such as strawberries. In a worse case scenario, if the osteoarthritic symptoms progress and are not responsive to non-operative treatment, knee replacement surgery then could be considered the structural cure for knee osteoarthritis.

Dr. Olsen

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