Connor Naspo loves baseball. And he’s really good at it—pitcher and shortstop are his favorite positions.
But last year, when he was 10, he was experiencing problems with his knee that threatened to take him out of the game. He had significant pain all the time, and his knee would periodically lock up. His mother took him to the pediatrician, who referred him to Carl Nissen, MD, an orthopedic sports medicine surgeon at Connecticut Children’s. Dr. Nissen discovered that the problem was in Connor’s meniscus.
There are two menisci within the knee that are C-shaped pieces of cartilage between the thigh bone and the shin bone that protects the bones from rubbing against each other and safely transmits stress from one bone to the other. It works like memory foam, compressing under pressure and then restoring when the pressure has passed.
In Connor’s case, instead of being C-shaped, he was born with a meniscus that was almost square. And because of its shape, it had torn under stress and pieces of it had lodged in the joint, preventing the knee from bending.
A Special Case
Dr. Nissen planned to use arthroscopic surgery—miniaturized camera and tools inserted through tiny incisions—to remove the broken pieces, repair the tear and reshape the meniscus to prevent future problems.
It should have been fairly straightforward—Elite Sports Medicine typically sees about 100 patients a year with meniscus issues, and almost all can be repaired—but Connor’s knee was a special case.
Because of the odd shape of Connor’s meniscus, there were unusual stresses on it, and the damage meant it had to come out altogether. Surprisingly, there is no replacement for a meniscus, at least not for an 11-year-old boy.
“There are artificial menisci out there,” Dr. Nissen said, “but they’re intended for people my age, who aren’t going to pound them and jump. It’s not really an option for young people, because it’s not biological. It’s not going to adapt and change.”
Still in the Game
Happily, Connor can function without a meniscus, so long as he continues doing exercises to strengthen the muscles, tendons, and ligaments around the knee. “Most of the time, I don’t think about it,” said Connor, who plays on two baseball teams and one soccer team and plays basketball and golf as well.
Connor will continue to have follow-up therapy, but coming back every six months is just fine with him. “The practice has been wonderful,” his mother, Erin, said. “They’ve been very helpful in giving information and support, and Connor really enjoys going to see them. He asks on the way over whether all the doctors will be there.”
For more information or to contact our care professionals, please visit the Division of Orthopedics at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center’s webpage.