One of the most common knee injuries are meniscal tears. Athletes, particularly those who play contact sports, are most at risk for meniscal tears. However, anyone at any age can tear a meniscus. When people refer to torn cartilage in the knee, they are usually referring to a torn meniscus.
There are 3 bones that meet to form the knee joint: the thighbone (femur), shinbone (tibia), and kneecap (patella). The ends of these bones are covered with cartilage. This is a smooth material that cushions the bone and allows the joint to move easily without pain. The cartilage acts as a shock absorber. Between the bones of the knees are 2 crescent-shaped disks of connective tissue, called menisci. These also act as shock absorbers to cushion the lower part of the leg from the weight of the rest of the body.
Menisci tear in different ways. They are noted by how they look, as well as where the tear occurs in the meniscus. Common tears include bucket handle, flap, and radial. Sudden meniscus tears often happen during sports. Players may squat and twist the knee, causing a tear. Direct contact, like a tackle, is sometimes involved. Older people are more likely to have degenerative meniscal tears. Cartilage weakens and wears thin over time. Aged, worn tissue is more prone to tears. Any awkward twist when getting up from a chair or stepping out of a car may be enough to cause a tear if the menisci have become weak with age.
1. Pain, especially when holding the knee straight
2. Swelling and stiffness
3. Catching, clicking, or locking of the knee
4. A sensation of “giving way”, feeling weak or unstable
5. Inability to move the knee through a full range of motion
These symptoms may look like other health conditions or problems. Be sure to check with your healthcare provider if you have any of these symptoms. Your physician will probably obtain x-rays and/or MRI to make a definitive diagnosis of your knee injury. An untreated torn meniscus can result in instability of the knee and lasting pain. The tear can become worse and it could also increase the risk of osteoarthritis.
Treatment for a torn meniscus can be nonsurgical or surgical depending on your symptoms, age, and general health. It will also depend on the type of tear you have, its size, location, and how severe the condition is. Nonsurgical treatment may consist of icing, medication to relieve pain and reduce inflammation, and muscle strengthening exercises. Surgical treatment would consist of arthroscopic surgery to either repair the tear or trim away tears in an area that will not promote healing.
Usually most of the rehabilitation from a meniscal tear can be done at home, although your provider may recommend physical therapy. Rehabilitation for a surgical meniscus repair is about 3 months. A meniscectomy (trimming the damaged area) surgery requires less time for healing – approximately 3-4 weeks. So don’t assume your knee pain is just old age. If you have any of the above symptoms, contact our office for an evaluation and treatment. No referral is necessary.