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Should Marathon Runners Get Surgery For Torn Meniscus?

Dr. Robert Marx is a sports medicine surgeon at Hospital for Special Surgery.
Dr. Robert Marx is a sports medicine surgeon at Hospital for Special Surgery. Photo Credit: Hospital for Special Surgery

STAMFORD, Conn. -- With the NYC marathon just one month away, many people are ramping up their training in order to run through the five boroughs with over 40,000 others. 

However, injuries are a part of the sport and marathon running is no exception. Distance running puts enormous stress on many parts of the body, including the knees, and one of the most common injuries is a torn meniscus. Hospital for Special Surgery's Dr. Robert Marx answers your questions on meniscus injuries.

What is a meniscus?

There are two menisci in each knee, one medial (inside) and one lateral (outside). The menisci are made of fibrocartilage and serve as shock absorbers between the ends of the thigh bone (femur) and the shin bone (tibia). Although the meniscus does not have nerves, a torn meniscus can pull on the capsule, causing pain.

How do meniscal tears happen?

Meniscal tears in runners usually result from overuse. They can also result from a sudden injury. The average age for a meniscal tear is in the forties, but runners young and old can suffer these tears.

What are the treatment options for meniscal tears?

Small meniscal tears often do not require any treatment and may not even bother the patient. In fact, it is common for people to have an abnormal appearance of their meniscus on MRI, but have no symptoms. For runners who have symptoms, are unable to run and upon physical examination and MRI present evidence consistent with a meniscal tear, surgery may be necessary. In many cases, surgery can be avoided with non-operative treatment such as physical therapy, anti-inflammatory medications and the use of a brace. Rehabilitation after a surgery is quick, with patients usually walking normally within a week or two.

When can I start running again after surgery?

Patients usually start running within two to three months, although some start earlier. Of course, running a marathon requires several months of training beyond that. Most patients who undergo meniscectomy can return to running without problems and in most cases do not have a significantly increased risk for arthritis.

Dr. Robert Marx is a sports medicine surgeon at Hospital for Special Surgery. He practices at both the HSS Outpatient Center in Stamford and the hospital’s main campus in New York.