Our knees take enough abuse just carrying us from one year to the next. But if the pain and dysfunction in one or both of your knees is more acute, then you may have suffered a very common knee injury known as a meniscus tear. Menisci are rubbery, c-shaped cartilaginous discs that cushion our knee joints. Each knee has two: one at the outer edge, and one at the inner edge. These menisci help us balance our weight evenly across our knees.
As we age, a meniscus starts to wear down and become more susceptible to tearing. But meniscus tears can occur at any age. It’s not at all uncommon to find them in active kids, teens and young adults. Most tears occur when we twist or turn suddenly with our foot firmly planted, perhaps when we’re lifting something heavy or playing sports that require a lot of sudden twists, turns, stops and starts. When it happens, patients often describe feeling a “pop” in their knee.
Mild to moderate meniscus tears can be painful at first, and are usually followed by swelling that lasts anywhere from two days to three weeks. You may feel stiff, and getting up from a squatting or kneeling position might be especially painful. Symptoms may subside, and because there are no nerve endings in cartilage you might experience no pain and forget all about the initial injury.
With more severe tears, pieces of torn meniscus can move into the joint space. If this happens, you may not be able to straighten your knee. It may catch, pop, or lock. Your knee may sound “gravelly” when you bend and extend your leg. It might feel more wobbly, and give way without warning.
Meniscus Tear Treatment Options
Left untreated, a meniscus tear can cause even more damage, hasten the onset of osteoarthritis, and lead to a myriad of other undesirable symptoms. Treatment for a torn meniscus often begins conservatively. Your doctor may recommend rest, ice, over-the-counter pain relievers, or physical therapy. Physical therapy can help you strengthen the muscles around your knee and in your legs to help stabilize and support the knee joint.
If your knee remains painful, stiff or locked, surgery may be recommended to either repair or trim a torn meniscus. Knee arthroscopy is one of the most commonly performed surgical procedures. During arthroscopy, a miniature camera is inserted through a small incision, providing your doctor with a clear view of the inside of the knee. Your surgeon is then able to trim or repair the tear using miniature surgical instruments.
Recovery time following arthroscopic surgery tends to be much faster than it is for open-knee procedures. You can often go home the same day and except a full recovery within several weeks or months.
The benefits of meniscus treatment can include:
- Substantial pain relief
- Delay of the onset of arthritis
- Restoration of pre-injury performance levels
- Slowed progression of cartilage damage
Are you experiencing knee pain or swelling? Do you have trouble getting up from a prone position, or hear gravelly noises in your knees? Does it feel like something is locking or catching? You may be suffering some from a torn meniscus. Consider consulting with one of Rebound’s orthopedic specialists to evaluate your symptoms and build an appropriate treatment plan.