In elite athletes with meniscal injuries, always repair the lateral, think about the medial! A systematic review

Knee Surg Sports Traumatol Arthrosc. 2023 Jun;31(6):2500-2510. doi: 10.1007/s00167-022-07208-8. Epub 2022 Nov 2.


Purpose: This study aimed to evaluate and compare the time required to return to sports (RTS) after surgery, the rate of revision surgery and the time required for RTS after revision surgery in elite athletes undergoing meniscal repair or partial meniscectomy, particularly analysing the difference between medial and lateral menisci. It was hypothesised that both procedures would entail similar, high rates of RTS, with the lateral meniscus exhibiting higher potential healing postprocedure compared to the medial meniscus.

Methods: A systematic review was conducted based on the PRISMA guidelines. Quality assessment of the systematic review was performed using the AMSTAR-2 checklist. The following search terms were browsed in the title, abstract and keyword fields: 'meniscus' or 'meniscal' AND 'tear,' 'injury' or 'lesion' AND 'professional,' 'elite' or 'high-level' AND 'athletes,' 'sports,' 'sportsman,' 'soccer,' 'basketball,' 'football' or 'handball'. The resulting measures extracted from the studies were the rate of RTS, level of RTS, complications, revision surgery and subsequent RTS, Tegner, International Knee Documentation Committee (IKDC) and Visual Analogue Scale (VAS).

Results: In this study, the cohort consisted of 421 patients [415 (98.6%) men and 6 (1.4%) women] with a mean age of 23.0 ± 3.0 years. All patients were elite athletes in wrestling, baseball, soccer, rugby or handball. While 327 (77.7%) patients received partial meniscectomy at a mean age of 23.3 ± 2.6 years, 94 (22.3%) patients received meniscal repair at a mean age of 22.1 ± 4.0 years. After partial meniscectomy, 277 patients (84.7%) returned to their competitive sports activity and 256 (78.3%) returned to their pre-injury activity levels. A total of 12 (3.7%) patients required revision surgery because of persistent pain [5 (1.5%) patients], chondrolysis [2 (0.7%) patients] or both chondrolysis and lateral instability [5 (1.5%) patients]. Ten (83.3%) of the twelve patients had involvement of the lateral meniscus, whereas the location of injury was not specified in the remaining two patients. After revision surgery, all patients (100%) resumed sports activity. However, after meniscal repair, 80 (85.1%) athletes returned to their competitive sports activity and 71 (75.5%) returned to their pre-injury activity levels. A total of 16 (17.0%) patients required partial meniscectomy in cases of persistent pain or suture failure. Of these, 4 (25%) patients involved lateral and medial menisci each and 8 (50%) patients were not specified. After revision surgery, more than 80.0% of the patients (13) resumed sports activity.

Conclusions: In elite athletes with isolated meniscal injury, partial meniscectomy and meniscal suture exhibited similar rates of RTS and return to pre-injury levels. Nonetheless, athletes required more time for RTS after meniscal repair and exhibited an increased rate of revision surgery associated with a reduced rate of RTS after the subsequent surgery. For lateral meniscus tears, meniscectomy was associated with a high rate of revision surgery and risk of chondrolysis, whereas partial medial meniscectomy allowed for rapid RTS but with the potential risk of developing knee osteoarthritis over the years. The findings of this systematic review suggested a suture on the lateral meniscus in elite athletes because of the high healing potential after the procedure, the reduced risk of developing chondrolysis and the high risk of revision surgery after partial meniscectomy. Furthermore, it is important to evaluate several factors while dealing with the medial meniscus. If rapid RTS activity is needed, a hyperselective meniscectomy is recommended; otherwise, a meniscal suture is recommended to avoid accelerated osteoarthritis.

Level of evidence: Level IV.

Study registration: PROSPERO-CRD42022351979 ( ).

Keywords: Elite athletes; Meniscal repair; Meniscal suture; Meniscectomy; Professional; Return to sport.

Publication types

  • Systematic Review
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Arthroscopy / methods
  • Athletes
  • Cartilage Diseases*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Knee Joint
  • Male
  • Meniscectomy
  • Menisci, Tibial / surgery
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Soccer* / injuries
  • Young Adult