One of the most common causes of knee pain has nothing to do with your bones and everything to do with the cartilage around your knees. Meniscus tears are one of the most common knee injuries we see in our office and they can happen at any age.
What is a meniscus tear?
Your knee joint is made up of three bones: the femur, shinbone, and patella (kneecap). The cartilage that protects your joints and prevents the femur and shinbone from rubbing against one another is called the meniscus. The meniscus can tear with overuse or sudden movement in sports, or with normal wear-and-tear as people age.
People who are most likely to experience a meniscus tear are those who play contact sports or sports that require frequent sudden movements, like tennis or soccer or require a lot of squatting, like baseball. However, older adults may also get meniscus tears because of normal wear-and-tear as they age. Diagnosis is best discovered by getting a physical examination, X-ray, and MRI.
What are the symptoms of a meniscus tear?
There are a number of different types of meniscus tears, depending on where the tear occurs and what the tear looks like. However, most people report the following symptoms:
- Hearing and feeling a “pop” in the knee when the tear occurs.
- Stiffness and swelling. The pain may not come on very quickly, so many people keep playing their sport or activity. However, within a few days, the stiffness and swelling will worsen.
- Difficulty straightening the leg
- Locked knee
If you continue in your activity or sport and don’t seek treatment, your knee pain will likely only grow worse. If you experience significant pain and swelling, you should see a doctor.
How do you treat meniscus tears?
Once torn, most menisci do not heal themselves. But people can often ease pain and swelling with the R.I.C.E. method:
Many times, if the tear is not too significant, people will be able to resume normal activities after the swelling and pain die down.
For more long-term treatment, people may have to:
- Modify their activities
- Treat the pain with therapy exercises. If you strengthen the muscles around the meniscus, that can help protect the part that is torn.
- Try cortisone injections
- Have surgery
Depending on how big the tear is, where the tear occurred, and how much pain a person is in from the tear, surgery may be the best option. Meniscus repair surgeries are usually done arthroscopically. For a typical meniscus repair surgery, the surgeon makes very small cuts in the knee, then goes in to stitch the tear through a scope.
If the tear is significant, there are two other surgical options:
- Arthroscopic partial meniscectomy, in which the surgeon removes a piece of the torn meniscus so the knee can function properly.
- Arthroscopic total meniscectomy, in which the surgeon removes the whole meniscus.
If you think you may have a torn meniscus or you’re struggling with knee pain during certain activities, you may want to schedule an appointment with one of our physicians. We have both sports medicine physicians and surgeons on hand to treat meniscus tears and other knee injuries. Call our office at 317-455-1064.