A meniscal tear is a common injury of the knee. The meniscus is a crescent – shaped cartilaginous structure that provides a cushion to your knee. Each knee has two menisci – one at the outer edge(lateral) and one at the inner edge(medial) and function to keep the knee steady by balancing weight across the knee. Another function of the meniscus is to lubricate the knee joint. Both menisci are located between the femur bone and the tibia bone.
In sports, people sometimes use the word ‘torn cartilage’ which means they have a meniscal tear. It refers to an injury to any one of the menisci which may occur from twisting or turning while your feet are planted. As you get older, the meniscus can potentially weaken over time and is easily prone to tear.
The most common sports associated with knee injuries of this kind are football, volleyball, and skiing.
Meniscal tears often happen during sports particularly in athletes. Players may squat and twist the knee forcing the ligament to tear. Sometimes there can be a direct blow on the knee joint which may cause the meniscus to tear. Football and soccer players often have to plant their feet to make various athletic moves on the field. Unfortunately, when these players get hit with their feet planted, this type of injury can occur.
As stated earlier, the elderly are also more prone to meniscal tears, but in this population, it is not because of sports, but due to degenerative wear and tear of the meniscus.
Meniscal tears can be categorized into three types. It can be minor, moderate, or severe. In minor cases, there is a little pain and swelling which goes away in few weeks on its own. A moderately torn meniscus can cause pain at the middle of knee or on the medial or lateral side. There is sharp pain and difficulty bending the knee. If movement is restricted, these symptoms can disappear in a few weeks, but may again reappear if you overuse the knee. If the tear is severe, pieces of torn meniscus can move into the joint space and can interfere with your knee joint range of motion. You may not be able to flex or extend your knee.
You should contact an orthopedic surgeon if you hear and audible pop followed by pain and swelling around the knee joint.
Your doctor may ask you how the injury occurred and how long you have had pain. He may ask you to locate the area. He will examine the area, press on it to see if it hurts you, and he may ask you what movements aggravate the injury. He may also ask for an x-ray of the affected portion or order a MRI (magnetic resonance imaging). A MRI would be able to create better images of the soft tissues of knee joint.
One of the commonly done tests to diagnose a meniscal tear is the McMurray test. Your doctor will bend your knee, then straighten and rotate it. While he does this, it puts tension on the torn meniscus and if there is a tear, this movement will cause a clicking sound. If you have a tear in the meniscus, your knee will click each time your doctor performs the test on you.
Treating A meniscal tear generally depends on its severity, your age and how active you are. To start with, home treatment may be given if the injury is not too serious. This includes plenty of rest, application of ice on the area, wrapping the knee with elastic bandage, and elevating the leg.
If this does not work, your physiotherapist may suggest some physiotherapy. If this too doesn’t work then surgery may be carried out either to repair the meniscus or remove it. Small tears generally heal with physiotherapy and home treatment. Larger tears may require a certain surgical procedure called a knee arthroscopy.
After surgery, your doctor may put your knee in a cast or brace to prevent it from moving and he may ask you to do some exercises at home. You may start with exercises to improve the bending and flexing of the knee.
Meniscal tears are an extremely common knee injury and with correct diagnosis and treatment, patients often return to their normal sports life.
Recovery depends upon the age of the patient, activity of the patient, severity of the tear, and the type of surgery performed to repair it.
On average, it takes about 4 – 6 weeks for the patient to recover completely from the meniscus surgery. In cases of minor surgery, he may be able to walk on his own and resume his work within a month’s time, but it may take longer than 2 months for the muscles to regain their full strength and therefore strenuous activities can only be resumed after 2 months of proper rest and care.
Check out more information on PRP Therapy for Meniscus Tears.
Use of proper technique while exercising or playing sports may help prevent a tear. However, many cases may not be preventable.
Having a Torn meniscus can severely hamper your quality of life. Surgery performed to repair the injury can lead to possible complications like stiffness of the knee after surgery or continued pain. There also can be infection, bleeding, and nerve damage at the surgery site.