Knee Injury and Meniscus Tear
Like a lot of knee injuries, a meniscus tear can be painful and debilitating. Unfortunately, it's quite common. In fact, this is one of the most frequently injured parts of the knee.
So what is the meniscus? It's a piece of cartilage in your knee that cushions and stabilizes the joint. It protects the bones from wear and tear. But all it takes is a good twist of the knee to tear the meniscus. In some cases, a piece of the shredded cartilage breaks loose and catches in the knee joint, causing it to lock up.
Meniscus tears are common in contact sports, like football, as well as in skiing and volleyball. They can happen when a person changes direction suddenly while running, and often occur at the same time as other knee injuries, like an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury. Meniscus tears are a special risk for older athletes, since the meniscus weakens with age. More than 40% of people 65 or older have them.
What Does a Meniscus Tear Feel Like?
Symptoms of a meniscus tear include:
- Pain in the knee.
- A popping sensation during the injury.
- Difficulty bending and straightening the leg,
- A tendency for your knee to get "stuck" or lock up.
At first, the pain may not be bad. You might even play through the injury. But once the inflammation sets in, your knee will probably hurt quite a bit.
To diagnose a meniscus tear, your doctor will give you a thorough exam. He or she will want to hear details about how you got your injury. X-rays may be necessary, to rule out broken bones and other problems. You may also need an MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) scan.
What's the Treatment for a Meniscus Tear?
Happily, mild to moderate meniscus tears may heal on their own, given time. To speed the healing, you can:
- Rest the knee. Try to avoid putting weight on your knee as much as possible. You may need to use crutches for a time.
- Ice your knee to reduce pain and swelling. Do it for 20-30 minutes every 3-4 hours for 2-3 days, or until the pain and swelling is gone.
- Compress your knee. Use an elastic bandage, straps, or sleeves on your knee to control swelling.
- Elevate your knee on a pillow when you're sitting or lying down.
- Wear a knee brace to protect your knee from getting re-injured.
- Take anti-inflammatory painkillers. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), like Advil, Aleve, or Motrin, will help with pain and swelling. However, these drugs can have side effects, like an increased risk of bleeding and ulcers. They should be only used occasionally, unless your doctor specifically says otherwise.
- Practice stretching and strengthening exercises if your doctor recommends them.
However, these conservative treatments aren't always enough. If large chunks of cartilage have been torn off, you will need surgery to remove them. The procedure is usually pretty simple, and you can often go home the same day. You may need a splint or brace afterward.
According to 85-90% of people who get the surgery for a meniscus tear, the short-term results are excellent or good. But in the long-term, people who have the meniscus removed are at much higher risk of developing knee arthritis.