A meniscus tear is a common injury of the knee. Your knee joint is cushioned by two c-shaped wedges of cartilage called the "menisci." Each individual cushion is called a "meniscus." This injury is a tear of one of these cushions.
What You Need To Know About Meniscus Tears
What is a Meniscus Tear?
A meniscus tear is a debilitating knee injury. The meniscus is an integral piece of cartilage that cushions and stabilizes the knee joint between the femur (thighbone) and tibia (shinbone). There are two C-shaped menisci in each knee joint.
The medial and lateral menisci can tear from trauma during various intensive activities, including football, volleyball, and soccer. A torn meniscus can cause a variety of issues that limit mobility and knee function. Meniscus tears increasingly become a risk as a person ages, and more than 40% of people 65 or older have experienced the condition.
People suffering from a torn meniscus will have trouble extending their knee and commonly experience pain, swelling, and stiffness.
What Causes a Torn Meniscus?
A torn meniscus most commonly occurs due to a forceful twist or rotation in the knee or hyper-flexing the knee joint. Athletes playing sports like football, tennis, basketball, or soccer commonly experience torn meniscus due to the unexpected changes in motion, such as sudden stops, turns, and pivoting required during gameplay. Weight lifting can also cause a torn meniscus from excess pressure on the knee during deep squatting or additional pressure from weighty objects.
People suffering from degenerative disorders like knee osteoarthritis are more at risk of a meniscus tear. The meniscus also weakens with age, and the degenerative changes in the body can increase the risk of a torn meniscus — even from little to no trauma. Cartilage weakens and starts to break down over time, leaving the tissue more prone to injury.
Torn Meniscus Symptoms
A torn meniscus' painful symptoms can be debilitating. Typically, a person will experience chronic knee pain, swelling, popping, and difficulty bending or straightening the leg. The stiffness in the knee will significantly limit mobility and make the patient suffering feel like their knee may give out. The popping sound is also a frequent indication that a piece of torn cartilage is blocking the knee joint.
Immediately after tearing their meniscus, a patient may feel pain in their knee, but may not feel an immediate cause for concern. However, after two to three days, the knee will become increasingly stiff, swollen, and painful. If these symptoms continue or develop into other symptoms like being unable to bend the knee, or the knee locking up, contact your physician immediately.
How is a Meniscus Tear Diagnosed?
A physical exam is the best way to evaluate if a patient has a torn meniscus. The doctor will discuss any symptoms a patient is experiencing and test the patient's range of motion. A physician may perform tests to evaluate how the affected knee moves when bent, straightened, or rotated. A popping sound during the test may indicate a torn meniscus.
Your doctor may recommend diagnostic screening. An X-ray will help examine other possible knee issues that could be causing symptoms. However, cartilage does not show up from an X-ray. An MRI will also provide detailed images of the tissue surrounding the knee and detect a torn meniscus.
Torn Meniscus Treatment
The best treatment plan for a torn meniscus depends on the injury's extent, and there are both surgical and non-surgical options. Patients should rest the knee, limit activities, and use crutches to get around. Compressing the swollen knee and administering ice will help alleviate pain.
Elevating the knee is crucial, and anti-inflammatory drugs such as Advil or Motrin will help with the pain and swelling. Physical therapy, stretching, and strengthening exercises are also beneficial to strengthen muscles around the torn meniscus, and potentially, the injury could heal on its own. However, surgical treatment may be the best option.
If non-surgical treatments are ineffective, surgical treatment can help address their pain. There are several treatment options for a torn meniscus. A physician can perform a meniscus repair with arthroscopy, or using transplanted tissue. In some cases, a partial meniscectomy may be used as an alternative surgical measure.