Age, constant movement, and an injury can all cause pain and stiffness in the knee. However, this pain and stiffness cannot be compared to the discomfort of a torn meniscus. An estimated 61 out of 100,000 people will experience a torn meniscus at one point, making it the most common injury of the knee. Even though it is so common, most people do not really understand this injury. Using this guide, you will become more familiar with causes, signs, and treatment options for a meniscus tear.
Before you can understand how these tears occur, you need to understand the anatomy of the knee.
The knee joint is comprised of the following three components:
- Femur (thighbone)
- Tibia (shinbone)
- Patella (kneecap)
Two sections of cartilage located between the femur and tibia act as shock absorbers, keeping the knee joint functional, smooth, and stable. These cartilage pieces are called the meniscus.
The meniscus can tear in a variety of ways. In most cases, the cartilage tears most often while playing sports. Contact made directly to the knee, such as during a tackle while playing football or impact while sliding into home base, can all cause a meniscus tear. However, repetitive motion, such as squatting, jumping, and running, can also cause the cartilage to tear.
Degenerative meniscus tears are common in older patients. As you age, the cartilage wears down and thins out. One awkward twist or a sudden motion of the knee can result in a meniscus tear.
The majority of patients know when they have torn the meniscus because a popping sound and sensation are heard and felt. In most cases, this tear will prevent you from continuing with your game. Here are a few other signs that you have torn your meniscus:
- Pain in the knee that spreads through entire leg
- Stiffness of knee, knee may lock in place
- Inability to bend or place pressure on the knee
- Swelling around the knee
If you have suffered an injury to your knee, visiting your doctor right away is important. Head to your nearest emergency room or urgent care center for testing.
Doctors will examine your knee and leg while asking what you were doing at the time of the injury. This will help your doctor determine which tests are needed to diagnose your injury effectively and efficiently.
An x-ray will not show if there is a tear in the meniscus, so your doctor will order an MRI, which is capable of showing damage to the soft tissue of the knee.
Treatment will depend on the location and severity of the meniscus tear. Most patients are advised to use R.I.C.E therapy to heal the torn meniscus.
Resting the knee is the most important part of this treatment. You should stay off the knee and avoid bending or placing any pressure on the knee joint for a few days. Use crutches to help you move around your house without bending the knee.
Ice compresses will numb your pain while improving blood circulation to the leg and through the knee. This improved circulation will ease swelling and promote faster healing.
Compressing the knee is another part of R.I.C.E therapy. Your doctor will wrap the knee in a compression bandage. This will reduce swelling and improve blood circulation.
Lastly, you should elevate the knee while resting. Make sure your knee is raised higher than your heart while resting to reduce pain and inflammation.
If your symptoms do not improve after a few days, a minimally-invasive surgery using an arthroscope will be suggested. After making a small incision, your doctor will be able to look at the cartilage using a small scope. Miniature tools are then used to repair the tear in the meniscus.
A meniscus tear may be common, but it is usually misunderstood. If you believe you have torn your meniscus, visit an orthopedic specialist today.