Tears in the meniscus – a wedge-like rubbery cushion located where the major bones of the leg connect – may occur during any sport that involves twisting the knee or decelerating. Think basketball, volleyball, tennis or skiing. These injuries, first felt as a popping or locking of the knee, often set the stage for knee osteoarthritis later in life, according to a study on knee medication funded, in part, by the Arthritis Foundation. And for sports injuries involving the knee, biologic agents are showing promise in accelerating recovery time.

Sometimes meniscal tears heal without any intervention, but often surgery to remove the damaged tissue is needed. Now, a study on knee medication may have found a way to speed healing.

The study found that the inflammation-causing proteins interleukin-1 (IL-1) and tumor necrosis factor (TNF) – known to damage the joints of people with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and other inflammatory forms of arthritis – blocked the healing of damaged meniscus. When biologic agents used in those diseases to counteract the effects of these two proteins were administered directly to the damaged meniscus, the repair process resumed.

Six biologics are already FDA-approved, but they do not remain in the bloodstream long enough to reach the meniscus and target the injured tissue. The good news is that a way to do so may be less than a year away, say researchers. If the new delivery system does well in studies, meniscal tear repair may be just the tip of the iceberg. Similar mechanisms interfere with healing of other joint tissues, such as cartilage and ligaments.