PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- People of all ages suffer from chronic knee pain due to meniscus injuries.
Most are too young to have replacement surgery and there aren't a lot of other options, but one could be on the horizon.
"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. Being a dad, I wanted to be involved," says 44-year-old Jim Dirico, who couldn't participate 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 describes.
"Just like an old rubber band, it can become dried out, it can become brittle, and become more susceptible to injury," says St. Clair Hospital orthopedic surgeon Dr. Brett Perricelli.
When the meniscus wears away, many patients face knee replacement surgery. But that doesn't last forever so many patients are asked to hold off until they're older.
To buy time, surgeons have tried to replace the damaged meniscus with cow skin, pig skin and metal, but all have failed.
"Some of those implants have dislodged, some of them didn't work, and the success of those earlier implants is not like we really want," says Dr. Perrecelli.
Now a handful of doctors across the country are testing a new meniscus implant made of a special medical grade plastic.
Studies in Europe have been promising.
"The patient that would probably be most ideal for this is somebody who does not have arthritis," says Dr. Perricelli. "If you can install another cushion into the knee, then that works as a meniscus and can hopefully prevent the arthritis from developing."
Patients between the ages of 30 and 75 are still being enrolled in the clinical trial. Patients will be randomly assigned to get the standard non-surgical care or the plastic meniscus, followed by six weeks of rehab.
This patient was the fourth in the country to get the plastic meniscus 10 weeks ago.
"He's above and beyond what I'd ever expect at this point," says Boston orthopedic surgeon Dr. Brian McKeon.
"Hopefully, the new generation of implants stay in position, don't become infected, and can function just like a good meniscus," adds Dr. Perricelli.
Jim says he still has a ways to go, but is now able climb, not just stairs, but that very important hill in his backyard.
"My daughter saw me up on top of the hill and said, 'Hey dad, you're knee is all better,' and it felt so great at that moment," he said.
For more details on the study, visit this link: http://meniscus-trial.com/
To be included in the study, you must have pain and meniscus surgery more than six months ago.
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