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Torn meniscus

We have two active trips starting in early June and then in mid July to Alaska’s Inside Passage and to Svalbard and the Norwegian Fjords (yes, it’s Europe but I am posting here) both with Nat Geo. I said to my husband when we booked these tours last year that we need to do the really active trips sooner rather than later while we were still able to get around well. We were both feeling great at the time of booking. We were walking daily except during all the crazy snowstorms we have had here in the Sierra’s this winter. We even snowshoed up to a 9000 foot elevation this past January. I had total knee replacement 5 years ago on my left knee and that knee is doing great. X-rays since that time showed that my right knee was great as well with just a tiny bit of arthritis. Three+ weeks ago the unthinkable happened and I suddenly tore the meniscus in my right knee. Owww! I have read the previous threads on the forum of others who have suffered the same injury but there were no reports back from them after they travelled with their injury. I had a cortisone shot in my right knee yesterday and am icing, elevating and resting and using the exercise bike as well as some leg exercises. I am taking a prescription NSAID as well. The doctor said if I need another cortisone shot before we leave for our trips she will do that. Right now I am doing well and things are improving. There is no pain at the moment and the flexibility in my knee is increasing. I am taking collapsible hiking poles on the trips, will wear a leg brace, get a wheelchair at the airport (humiliating for me) and do what hikes that I can. At the very least I can certainly view the wildlife and glaciers from the ship and the zodiac. Ok. Long story short my question to those of you who traveled after a torn meniscus is how did that work out for you. Do you regret not canceling your trip? Was it just too difficult. I have read that meniscus surgery is not really a good option and that the pain will abate after about 8+ weeks. And meniscus surgery could lead to a total knee replacement in 5 years or so. Please share your experience and advice with me. I am trying to be optimistic.

Posted by
8642 posts

I have had surgery for a torn meniscus twice (once for each leg). I felt like I had a full recovery and noticed a difference right away after surgery. I think it was about 6 weeks until I felt like I was operating at full speed.

Only you know how you feel and what choices are best for you. Prior to surgery I opted not to have the steroid shots so I can’t really relate to how they might impact your trip.

Posted by
2500 posts

Thanks, Carol. So far so good with the cortisone shot yesterday but it is way too soon to tell. Past experiences have been diminishing returns with each cortisone injection on my left knee before I finally had total knee replacement. I don’t know how long the relief from this injection will last. I just want to be able to do these two trips and see how well or if I can heal without the meniscus surgery. I guess time will tell.

Posted by
8239 posts

I'm surprised you've not had to replace your right knee already. You're fortunate. Those that have one replacement tend to put more pressure on the bad knee--and end up having surgery.

You might want to ask around to see the recovery period on having the meniscus "trimmed." I didn't think the recovery period was too long, and you've got a couple of months until you leave.

We've been to the fjords and taken the Norway in a Nutshell trip out ot Bergen. Honestly,, the worst part of an international trip is dealing with the airports. My wife has been mobility challenged the last 3-4 years, and we've been to Vegas, 3 national parks, two cruises and to Europe twice.

Her secret is using a folding portable personal scooter, and she wheels right up to the door of the airplane. It's got a 10 mile range and she runs off and leaves me. We're having to stay in more modern hotels (with elevators) instead of B&B's. And we catch a few more cabs (instead of catching the underground.) We did meet our match in Venice with the arched bridges, but we've been there 10 times before so she didn't have to go far.

One of the best things about the portable scooter is we don't require any assistance from anyone. I can handle all the luggage myself. And we automatically go to the front of every line--in airports or restaurants.

Posted by
18 posts

I was in the same position a year ago. Tore my meniscus the end of February with a month long trip to Spain planned in April. The weeks leading up to the trip were very stressful and at one point I was sure we’d cancel. But, I decided to take things day by day; did not cancel and it all worked out great. Wonderful trip.

I managed the pain with RX meloxicam + acetaminophen, did not have cortisone injection. Walking was ok, standing for relatively long periods of time was not.

Mine took a lot longer to heal than anyone thought, try not to be discouraged if yours doesn’t heal in a specified time frame.

You’re welcome to PM me if you have questions or need a sympathetic ear :).

Posted by
2500 posts

Hi David,

My right knee has been almost perfect until now. I was so happy as I really do not want to have to go through a total knee replacement again. So not fun. The doctor and I have decided to take a conservative approach on this. Cortisone and exercise. The pain of the last few weeks was debilitating and I couldn’t sleep so the relief from the cortisone was very welcome. I am hoping I can do this.

Posted by
2500 posts

Oh, @bfarm30, thanks so much for your reply and encouragement. I am so glad it worked out for you. I am hoping it works out for me, too. I am taking meloxicam as well which was taking the edge off the pain until 7 or 8 at night. I will do all that I can before pulling the plug in these two trips. I have six or seven weeks to decide.

Posted by
16914 posts

I am sorry to hear this. I know from experience how painful a torn meniscus can be.

But where did you read that meniscus surgery “could lead to a total knee replacement in 5 years or so”? Did you talk to your doctor about this? And an orthopedic surgeon? And they advised that surgery is not a good option for you?

My experience with meniscus surgery was very positive. I tore both the ACL (Grade 1 tear) and the miniscus in my right knee trying to learn to telemark ski in 1982. I was told the ACL would heal with rest, and after 6 weeks they would evaluate the meniscus damage. By that time I could walk without pain, but I not straighten my leg completely to “lock” the knee. I wanted to avoid surgery, but was told that it was necessary to remove the torn bits of cartilage that were interfering with the knee function.

Arthroscopic surgery was quite new then, and I had to have general anesthesia and spend the night in the hospital. And then use crutches for 2 weeks. I am sure it is very different now. I was advised that I “might”develop arthritis in that knee in 30 years or so, but it has now been 40 years and that has not occurred yet.

As I recall, I was walking normally and without pain within a month, and started rehab—exercises to strengthen the muscles surrounding the knee to support it. I also took up cycling and that helped. In less than a year, I was back to my usual activities—-running 10K races, riding my horse, and downhill skiing, all without issues. And after more leg strengthening with mountain biking, I resumed backpacking and strenuous hiking.

We no longer backpack (too hard on my husband’s back), but we still do strenuous hikes of 10 miles with 2500-3500 feet of elevation gain and loss. I have used hiking poles for the past 20 years (I could not handle steep downhills without them).

The timing, with the Alaska trip coming up in June, does not work out for you to have the surgery beforehand. But you are improving, and should experience less and less pain and gain more mobility over the weeks between now and then. You will be on a boat much of the time, able to enjoy the Inside Passage scenery from there. And I am thinking you can pick and choose from the active excursions offered in the Zodiac or ashore, as appropriate to how you are feeling at the time. I cannot imagine canceling the trip because of this.

Posted by
2397 posts

You are .more than half way their with your positive attitude!! It. It can be done just admit you need help let vanity go. I know from voice of experience. When you book airline tickets ask.for bulkhead seat. I used the one facing the cockpit on the left and an aisle seat. That way no on was bothering my right knee and I could stretch my leg out frequently. I also took a walker with a seat and a foldable cane. I struggled making that decision but it was a choice to adapt or stay home and it all.worked out. I have had to travel home from Hawaii where I broke both bones in my arm and from Vegas with a torn meniscus and we are now on a five thousand road trip so with making adjustments we are making it work. So can you!!!!

Posted by
1534 posts

I tore my meniscus on the RS Best of Scandinavia tour in June, 2017. I always have knee pain and I didn't really know what happened so I didn't get the knee looked at until about 7 months later. This was a bad idea because I allowed my leg to get weak as I was avoiding using that leg when climbing stairs. I received a cortisone injection and PT. I went on the Best of Italy tour in September, 2018. I got an injection right before the trip. I was feeling so well that I hiked up the hill to the Castle of Vezio. That meant that my knee was sore for the rest of the trip. I did fine but I didn't even try to hike at Cinque Terre.

I had to have surgery in January, 2019 because the flap of the meniscus was getting stuck in the joint. I had a very slow recovery, but I was able to go on the Best of Turkey tour in September, 2019. I took one collapsible Hunger Hiker pole. It was a bit tough, but I did almost everything I wanted to on the tour.

Today, my knee feels the best it has since May, 2017. I still take my hiking stick with me when I travel. I can walk 3-7 miles per day and do stairs. I take ibuprofen during travel and avoid it in daily life. Definitely take at least one pole with you. It doubles how far I can walk.

Posted by
2500 posts

@lola I have done a lot of research on this. One study was from Harvard University that showed pt was as effective as meniscus surgery. The other study was the NIH one showing that meniscal tear surgery can lead to a three fold increase in the chance of needing total knee replacement surgery in five years or so. My doctor (orthopedist) confirmed this and wants to take a conservative approach. We are not ruling out surgery if all else fails. I am glad you are doing so well and are so active and have not needed knee replacement surgery. You had pieces of the meniscus migrate to different parts of your knee which caused the knee to lock. You definitely needed surgery in that case. It appears that I have a lateral tear and my knee is not locking.

@Gail Thanks for the encouragement. We have upgraded seats on all of our flights so should be comfortable. I won’t put anything under the seat in front of me and will keep my leg stretched out.

@vandabrud I am taking a very proactive approach and getting the exercise now that I need to keep the synovial fluid moving in the joint and my knee from freezing up and unable to bend. Not to mention strengthening my quads. I knew immediately when this happened what I had done and the X-ray and MRI just confirmed it. Yes, you definitely needed surgery. No getting around that situation. I am glad you are doing better. I am definitely using the hiking poles. I used them on my last trip to Alaska when we did a 5 mile hike to a glacier. I would not have been able to do that hike otherwise especially since I was a month away from my knee replacement surgery.

Posted by
4349 posts

No advice other than to say I tore mine about 7 weeks before a trip about 6 years ago. I had to take it easy, go slower, and sometimes it hurt. But it was my first trip with my youngest adult daughter and I simply wouldn’t have cancelled. So maybe I skipped some stairs or sat a little more than usual. Sometimes travel isn’t optimal - maybe we get sick or a travel companion gets sick. Most of us here know how to roll with the punches and how to enjoy what we can. I think you have a solid plan in mind and time to get past the worst of it! Sending good wishes!

Posted by
3363 posts

Mary, I’m so sorry that happened and just wanted to chime in to wish you a speedy recovery and safe travels. If you are anywhere near Anchorage on your Alaska cruise, it would be fun to meet up. I am happy to play tour guide!

Posted by
2500 posts

Thanks for the invite and the kind wishes, Tammy. I would love to meet you but this time our trip will take us from Juneau to Sitka.

Posted by
2248 posts

Mary--I sure feel for you. Three knee surgeries for me so far, with a full replacement coming in August and then will do the replacement on the other knee after that. Only one of the 3 surgeries was meniscus though. Long story short, my knees were deformed and that caused all this damage. So I deal with pain on a daily basis and have for many years, not knowing what it was until I took a fall and ended up at the ortho. Anyway, after my last surgery we had a hiking trip planned for 5 weeks after. It was just a driving trip for us, so no flights, but still had to take a long ferry and then the goal was a family hiking trip. At 5 weeks I did manage several 5 mile hikes, just much slower than usual and and very light pack. My daughter hiked with me while the other 3 did a 2 day backpacking trip out of the North Cascades. My hiking was a bit early, but my surgeon knew my plans and he knew that we hiked regularly so said to just go with what feels ok to me. I did have one cortisone injection, but for me it gave me only 2 days of relief.I am glad you have better luck with that. If I were in your shoes, I would try for the injection and go. Ask for pain pills if you need so you have those with you. We are doing a 17 day hiking focused trip to Iceland this summer right before my surgery. I plan to do everything I can while I can. My doctor gave me an rx for pain since we will be in the most remote area of the country and she knows me well enough that I hate to take anything if I don't have to. But at least I will have it if I need it.

Posted by
2500 posts

@mikliz97 I had the cortisone injection a couple of days ago and am feeling no pain at the moment. I have the pain pills but have stopped taking them. I am with you on not taking pills but when they are necessary I am not going to tough it out. I am feeling encouraged that the doctor will give me another cortisone injection if necessary but hope it’s not necessary. I am determined to do whatever it takes to do these trips - exercise, hiking poles, wheel chair assist at the airport, taxis and rest if necessary. Everyone on this forum has been so kind and encouraging. I really appreciate it.

I am sorry you will need knee replacement surgery on both knees. Been there done that for my left knee 5 years ago. That knee is doing great. That’s why this recent unexpected injury had me so distressed. Those knee replacements are tough recoveries but if you are diligent with the pt you will be able to walk without pain in about 6 weeks and will be grateful that you did the surgery. You will be able to achieve full range of motion. The pt is so critical to your recovery. You sound a lot like me in that you are very determined. I can tell that you are going to make a good recovery from your surgeries and will be kicking yourself for not doing it sooner.

Posted by
2248 posts

Mary--You just brightened my day, thank you:) This morning I actually got my surgery scheduled. It is 2 weeks after we return, so enough time for the swelling to go down, lol. I am glad the cortisone is helping you, and hopefully you won't need another. I truly look forward to hearing how your trip goes and how you fare. I have a feeling you will do great:)

Posted by
2500 posts

@mikliz97 I plan on reporting back after my trips to let everyone know how it went. Although each case is individual, it may help someone else. Torn meniscus is one of the most knee common injuries. You are going to do great with your surgeries. After my knee replacement I used my exercise bike at home once the therapist allowed it and did the prescribed home exercises besides the twice a week formal pt. It was painful but it worked. Follow the advice of the therapist and don’t shirk. I also had an ice machine which I highly recommend. Good luck to you!

Posted by
1019 posts

Hi Mary

I think I got my torn meniscus after I ran a half marathon in dublin on my 1st RS ireland tour in august 2014. Thank goodness I had taken a knee brace but I did well on rest of tour. Got home and had surgery. Went on cruise in Dec 2015, RS tour 2016, RS tour and cruise 2017, two back to back RS tours 2018. Then I. Had my knee replaced in Oct 2018. So I it guess it helped for awhile. Keep up what your doing and hopefully you will be good.

Best of luck

Kim

Posted by
2248 posts

Mary--I have an ice machine and swear by it! I also have bike and treadmill that I actually use, lol. I swapped out the pedals on may Peloton so I don't have to clip in as that won't work for me after the surgery. Heck, that was already too painful so that's why I swapped them out already. I have a great p/t that is about 5 minutes from, the house too, so I am lucky!

Posted by
2500 posts

Thanks @AMann My orthopedist knows my travel dates and that hiking and zodiacs are part of the trips. There is not enough time to do this surgery before our trips. Plus we will be on a ship in the Arctic and not near any medical facilities if something goes awry with my knee post any surgery, it would be a costly evacuation. Yes, I have insurance so not too worried on that score. We have decided to give this some time to see if it will heal. It is not life threatening just painful. If I am still suffering in 3 or 4 months then we will go from there. I have meloxicam (same as Mobic) and using that as needed. I trust my orthopedic team. I have also done my own research on all this. Right now I am pain free as I had the cortisone shot. I hope it lasts but I can get another shot if needed. One thing I am really grateful for is that this didn’t happen on our Antarctic cruise. That would have been really bad.

I am sorry to hear that you are suffering as well. I had my knee replaced 5 years ago. I can do everything I did before except downhill skiing. It is a fully functioning pain free knee. It is good to have that knee in good shape.

Posted by
382 posts

Over many years my meniscus tear from a ski accident flares up occasionally-several times within 2 months of a big trip. Swimming and water excerise classes have strengthened the knee and leg muscles without weight on the knee. Your other exercises with bicycle and walking are good too. I always carry a folding cane and use it on uneven surfaces. My rule when walking today is no talking or photos. An unwanted trip or fall could ruin my trip. No surgery so far and I’m in my late 70’s. Keep on traveling!

Posted by
1152 posts

I tore my meniscus just twisting my leg and pushing to get out of a car. I've read with interest the studies that say conservative treatment yields the same or better results as surgery, but those are recent studies and I had not heard of them back then so I had the surgery. It helped. I still have a bit of a "trick" knee, though.

I did not see any mention of knee braces in the posts above. I would certainly check with your doctor, but the elastic braces really help me when I have either exerted myself too much and my knee hurts, or if I know I'll be moving it more than I normally do. (If you go this route, you may need to try a variety to see what works best for you.)

In some ways I can thank my torn meniscus for starting all of my family's overseas travel. Tearing it so easily convinced me that if we wanted to travel, we had better do so while we were all still reasonably healthy.

Posted by
2500 posts

@Paul I have a knee brace which helps. I guess with the surgery it depends on the type of tear and the individual in terms of age. They are going more conservative with these situations.. I read about that Harvard study many years ago where they did arthroscopy on some patients and placebo surgery on others and both had the same outcome. The physical therapy was key in terms of outcome.