Meniscus tears are one of the more common knee injuries. Athletes and the elderly are especially prone to this type of injury. In fact, a study by Medscape Medical Journal found over 800,000 procedures related to the meniscus are performed annually.
Mollie Mortenson, a physician assistant at DMOS Orthopaedic Centers, provided some information about meniscus tears, causes, symptoms, treatment options as well as prevention tips.
Where is my meniscus?
Your menisci (plural of meniscus) are located in your knees. There are two in each knee that form a structure around the top of the tibia bone. They are c-shaped cushions that help protect the joint from wear and tear and also aid in stability. In addition to providing protection, your menisci balance the weight across your knees reducing stress.
What causes a meniscus tear?
One wrong twist can cause your meniscus to tear. This is why meniscus injuries are common for football, soccer and basketball players. A sudden change in direction while running, taking a hard tackle or pivoting quickly can cause the cartilage to tear and in some cases even break loose causing your knee to lock.
Mortenson also explained degenerative tears are common in older populations because of years of “wear and tear” on the knee. These tears can result from day-to-day activities like standing up from a squatting position too quickly.
How do I know I know if I tore my meniscus?
Several different symptoms accompany a torn meniscus. Below is a list of some of the more common symptoms.
- Tenderness along your knee joint lines when touched
- The sensation that your knee is catching or locking when extended
- Difficulty moving your knee
- A popping sound at the time of the injury
Older individuals and those with damaged knee cartilage from osteoarthritis may experience a slower onset of symptoms than a younger athlete.
How do you treat a torn meniscus?
Depending on the severity of the tear there are surgical and non-surgical options available to treat your injury. Your physician and care team will use an MRI to help determine if your meniscus is torn. X-rays only show bones and will not capture your tendons, cartilage, and ligaments like an MRI scan will.
- Non-surgical Treatment Options: After your injury rest your knee using the RICE method (Rest, Ice, Compress and Elevate). Over the counter NSAIDS (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen and aspirin) can help reduce the pain and swelling. If your knee is not responding to those treatments, your physician may recommend a steroid injection with physical therapy. A physical therapist can help you strengthen the muscles around your knee as well as offer other tips to reduce pain.
- Surgical Treatment Options: For a severe meniscus tear, surgery may be the best treatment option for you. Depending on the tear, your physician may choose to perform a meniscus repair. This is where sutures are used to fix the tear. In other cases, a meniscectomy may be prescribed as the recommended course of treatment. During a meniscectomy, the tear is removed, leaving the remaining healthy meniscus intact.
Mortenson recommends consulting your doctor to determine which treatment option is best for your specific injury.
Is there anything I can do to prevent meniscus injuries?
There are ways you can help protect yourself against meniscus injuries. Proper body mechanics when playing any sport will help reduce your risk of injury. Correct posture will allow you to run, jump, throw and perform other functional movements with the appropriate degree of control.
Warm-up and stretching before engaging in activities that will place stress on your knee is another way to prevent meniscus injuries. Exercises that help strengthen leg muscles can also help protect your menisci from injury.
“If you think you have a meniscus tear you should consider consulting your physician,” said Mortenson. “When left untreated, your tear can cause chronic pain as well as increase the onset of osteoarthritis symptoms.”