Meniscal Injuries

What is a meniscus tear?

There are two types of cartilage in the knee. The first, articular cartilage, covers the ends of the bones and allows the joint to glide smoothly. The second type, meniscal cartilage, sits on top of the tibia (shin bone) and forms two C-shaped wedges—the medial, and lateral menisci. These cup the rounded end of the femur (thigh bone) and provide cushion and stability. The menisci protect the articular cartilage of the femur and tibia prevents them from rubbing together. As we age the menisci degenerate, making them more susceptible to injury. The menisci can also be damaged in a twisting type of injury.

What causes a meniscus tear?

A meniscus tear is usually caused by twisting or turning quickly, often with the foot planted while the knee is bent. These tears can occur when you lift something heavy or play sports. As you get older, degenerative changes of the knee may contribute to a torn meniscus.

What are the symptoms of meniscal injuries?

  • Knee pain, often with swelling
  • Pain worse with bending the knee or
    climbing stairs
  • Occasionally popping or locking sensations
    in the knee

How are meniscal tears diagnosed?

The diagnosis of meniscus injury is made partly based on the description of your pain as well as your response to specific physical exam tests in the office. X-rays can rule out other disorders such as fractures or arthritis. An MRI allows your specialist to clearly see the menisci of the knee as well as other important structures and determine the extent of your injury.

How is a torn meniscus treated?

Treatment for a torn meniscus depends on the severity and location of the tear, your age, and your activity level. Treatment typically begins conservatively. Your doctor may recommend rest, ice, and medication.

Physical therapy can help strengthen the muscles around the knee and in your legs to help stabilize and support the knee joint. Arch supports or other shoe inserts can help to distribute force more evenly around your knee or decrease stress on certain areas of your knee.

If nonsurgical treatments are not successful, your doctor may recommend arthroscopy. Arthroscopy is a minimally invasive operation in which the surgeon examines the joint with an arthroscope, a pencil-thin device equipped with a camera lens and light, while making repairs through a small incision. After surgery, your doctor may put your knee in a cast or brace to keep it from moving while healing.

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