What is a Torn Meniscus?
A torn meniscus is one of the most frequent knee injuries. Any activity which causes you to forcibly twist or rotate your knee, particularly when putting your full weight on it, could result in a torn meniscus.
Each of your knees has two C-shaped pieces of cartilage which act like a cushion between your shinbone and your femur otherwise known as menisci. A torn meniscus causes pain, inflammation and solidness. You also may feel a block to knee motion and have trouble stretching your knee fully.
Traditional treatment like rest, ice and medication is sometimes sufficient to ease the pain of a torn meniscus and give the injury time to heal on its own. In other cases, although, a torn meniscus needs surgical repair.
Torn Meniscus Symptoms
If you have torn your meniscus, you may have the following signs and symptoms in your knee:
- A popping feeling
- Inflammation or solidness
- Pain, particularly in twisting or rotation of the knee
- Difficulty extending your knee fully
- Sensation as though your knee is locked in place when you try to move it
- Sensation of your knee giving way
When should you see a doctor?
Contact your doctor or primary care physician if your knee is painful or inflamed, or if you cannot move your knee in the usual ways.
Torn Meniscus Causes
A torn meniscus could result from any activity which causes you to forcibly twist or rotate your knee, like aggressive pivoting or unexpected stops and turns. Even kneeling, deep squatting or lifting something heavy could sometimes result in a torn meniscus.
In older adults, degenerative changes of the knee could contribute to a torn meniscus with little or no trauma.
Performing activities which involve aggressive twisting and pivoting of the knee puts you at risk of a torn meniscus. The risk is especially high for athletes particularly those who participate in contact sports, like football, or activities which involve pivoting, like tennis or basketball.
Wear and tear on your knees as you get older increases the risk of a torn meniscus. So does obesity.
A torn meniscus can result in a feeling of your knee giving way, inability to move your knee generally or persistent knee pain. You may be at a higher risk of developing osteoarthritis in the injured knee.
Torn Meniscus Diagnosis
A torn meniscus usually could be identified during a physical examination. Your primary care physician may move your knee and leg into different positions, watch you walk and ask you to squat to help identify the cause of your signs and symptoms.
- X-rays – Because a torn meniscus is made of cartilage, it would not show up on X-rays. But X-rays could help rule out other problems with the knee which cause similar symptoms.
- MRI – This uses radio waves and a strong magnetic field to produce detailed pictures of both hard and soft tissues within your knee. It is the best imaging study to detect a torn meniscus.
In some cases, your primary care physician may use an instrument otherwise known as an arthroscope to examine the inside of your knee. The arthroscope is inserted by a small cut close to your knee.
The device contains a light and a small camera, which sends an enlarged image of the inside of your knee onto a monitor. If required, surgical instruments could be inserted through the arthroscope or through additional small incisions in your knee to trim or repair the tear.
Torn Meniscus Treatment
Treatment for a torn meniscus usually starts traditionally, depending upon the type, size and location of your tear.
Tears related with arthritis usually improve over time with treatment of the arthritis, so surgery generally is not indicated. Many other tears which are not related with locking or a block to knee motion will become less painful over time, so they also do not need surgery.
Your primary care physician may suggest:
- Rest – Stay away from activities which aggravate your knee pain, particularly any activity which causes you to twist, rotate or pivot your knee. If your pain is serious, using crutches could take the pressure off your knee and promote healing.
- Ice – Ice could lower knee pain and inflammation. Use a cold pack, a bag of frozen vegetables, or a towel filled with ice cubes for about fifteen minutes at a time, keeping your knee elevated. Do this every 4 to 6 hours the first day or two, and then as often as required.
- Medication – Over-the-counter pain relievers also could help relieve knee pain.
Physical therapy could help you strengthen the muscles around your knee and in your legs to help stabilize and support the knee joint.
Torn Meniscus Surgery
If your knee remains painful despite rehabilitative therapy or if your knee locks, your primary care physician may suggest surgery. It is sometimes possible to repair a torn meniscus, particularly in children and young adults.
If the tear cannot be repaired, the meniscus may be surgically trimmed, possibly through tiny incisions using an arthroscope. After surgery, you will be required to do exercises to increase and maintain knee strength and stability.
If you have advanced, degenerative arthritis, your primary care physician may suggest a knee replacement. For youth who have signs and symptoms after surgery, but no advanced arthritis, a meniscus graft may be appropriate. The surgery includes transplanting a meniscus from a cadaver.
If you or anyone you know is suffering from a torn meniscus, our expert providers at Zenith Injury Relief & Wellness Clinic will take care of your health and help you recover.