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Artificial Meniscus Replacements Could Mean An End To Chronic Knee Pain

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- There's hopeful news for anyone with a torn or damaged knee meniscus.

It's the most common cause of chronic knee pain, but as CBS2's Dr. Max Gomez explained, testing is underway on an artificial replacement.

"I couldn't get up the hill. I had to stand and watch my two children climb a little bit of a hill that we have," Jim Dirico said.

The 42-year-old Dirico couldn't climb because of severe pain in his right knee from a worn meniscus. The shock absorbing rubbery cushion between the thigh bone and the shin bone.

"It felt like someone was putting a knife in the meniscus," he said.

When a torn meniscus is removed or wears away, doctors don't have a lot to offer short of knee replacement surgery.

Replacements don't last forever so many patients are asked to hold off until they're older.

"We used to say get to 50 and crawl in here at 50 and we'll do the replacement, and people are literally like, my birthday is coming. Now that number should be 60 to 64 because people, women in particular, are living forever," Dr. Brian McKeon said.

To buy time surgeons have tried to replace the damaged meniscus with various materials. All have failed.

Now, doctors are testing a new meniscus implant made of a special medical grade plastic.

"We put this implant in, which is relatively stable, and the patient gets up and puts full weight on it right away, and if it doesn't work I don't burn bridges. I can take it out," Dr. McKeon said.

Ten-weeks-ago, Jim became the fourth person in the nation to receive the new implant. He still has a ways to go, but is able to climb the stairs, and the very important hill in his backyard.

"My daughter saw me up on top of the hill and said, 'hey dad, your knee is all better,' and it felt so great at that moment," Dirico said.

The plastic meniscus has been in use  in Europe since 2008, and is being tested in a two year clinical trial in the U.S.

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