Knee pain is a chief complaint among many people. In the majority of instances, the cause of that pain is a torn meniscus. It’s a common injury among athletes and, at times, may require surgical intervention. Other times, ice and rest are all that’s called for. Let’s take a closer look at this small but vital part of your body and what you should do if you’ve endured a meniscus tear.
What is the meniscus?
Each of your knees has two curved pieces of cartilage that cushion the area between the thighbone (femur) and the shinbone (tibia) and provide stability to the kneecap. These tough, rubbery pieces of cartilage are called the menisci. When these pieces of cartilage tear, it’s what’s known as a torn meniscus.
What causes a tear in the meniscus?
A torn meniscus can result from any activity that causes you to forcefully twist or rotate your knee more than you do normally. That’s why these injuries occur most often in athletes who participate in sports that require aggressive pivoting or sudden starts and stops, such as basketball, football, soccer, and tennis.
However, even those who aren’t athletes can experience a meniscus tear from kneeling, lifting heavy objects, or squatting too deeply. Older adults, whose knees may have degenerated, can tear a meniscus with little or no trauma to the knee.
What are the symptoms of a meniscus tear?
These are the most common symptoms of a meniscus tear:
- Knee pain
- Swelling and stiffness in the affected knee
- Difficulty straightening the knee
- A feeling that your knee is “locked”
- A limited range of motion
- A “clicking” or “popping” sound coming from the knee.
- A lack of knee stability or strength
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, then you should go to see an orthopedist for a proper diagnosis and treatment plan.
How is a torn meniscus diagnosed?
To diagnose a tear in the meniscus, your orthopedist will first examine your knee and help you gently bend, straighten, and rotate it while they listen for the popping sound that would indicate a meniscus tear.
Then, your doctor will likely order two imaging tests: an MRI and an X-ray. The MRI will help confirm the diagnosis and show the extent of damage to your meniscus and any other soft tissues. The X-ray won’t show the meniscus because it is cartilage, but it will reveal if the bones of the knee have endured fractures or are showing signs of osteoarthritis.
How is a torn meniscus treated?
There are several options to treat a torn meniscus. Treatment typically starts conservatively as minor tears will heal over time. Your orthopedist will recommend rest, ice to reduce swelling, and may prescribe medication to help manage pain levels. Your orthopedist may also prescribe physical therapy. This will help strengthen the muscles around your knee and prevent future injuries.
More severe tears will require surgery. The most common surgical procedure for a torn meniscus is knee arthroscopy. During this procedure, your surgeon will make a small incision in your knee and insert a small camera that will help locate the damaged tissue. The surgeon will then either repair the meniscus, or, if the damage is severe, trim away damaged parts which will promote further healing and help relieve knee pain.
After surgery, your doctor will talk to you about proper rest, pain management, and when to seek physical therapy. Be sure to follow your doctor’s instructions to ensure proper healing and to help avoid future injury.
What’s the bottom line on meniscus tears?
If you experience a meniscus tear and it is properly treated and managed by a board-certified orthopedist, then you can expect a full recovery and a return to your pre-injury activities.
If you are experiencing knee pain or think you may have a torn meniscus, then contact Dr. James Parolie at Somerset Orthopedic & Sports Medicine. Dr. Parolie specializes in sports injuries and arthroscopic surgery. Call 908-425-4990 to schedule an appointment today.