What is the meniscus?
The meniscus is a C-shaped wedge of cartilage that rests between the femur (thigh bone) and tibia (shin bone). Each knee has two menisci, one at the outer edge of the knee (lateral meniscus) and one at the inner edge (medial meniscus). The meniscus acts to distribute the weight of your body across the knee joint and aids in the stability of the joint.
How does the mensicus tear?
Meniscus tears, or "cartilage tears", are among the most common knee injuries, usually due to traumatic injury or degenerative process. Traumatic tears often happen during sports. Players may bend and twist the knee, causing a tear, or direct contact, like a tackle, is sometimes involved. Degenerative meniscus tears are more likely to be seen in older people. The cartilage weakens over time making it more prone to tear; something as simple as an awkward twist when getting up from a chair or stepping off a curb may be enough to cause a tear.
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Can I prevent a meniscus tear?
Meniscus tears can be hard to prevent because they generally happen without any warning. Getting regular exercise, including strength training for your leg muscles, warming up and stretching properly before playing sports or engaging in any strenuous activity involving your legs, learning the proper techniques for your sport or activity, and also giving your muscles plenty of time to rest and recover between activities may all reduce your risk.
What are some symptoms of a meniscus tear?
The most common symptoms associated with a meniscus tear are pain, swelling and limited range of motion of the knee. Most people can still walk on their injured knee and many athletes may keep playing with a tear. The severity of the symptoms is also dependent on the type or size of the meniscus tear. Small tears may cause minimal pain and swelling, while larger tears can cause the knee to catch or pop, or lock in a certain position.
If you have persistent knee pain and swelling, especially after an injury, you may have torn your meniscus or injured other structures in your knee. Other tests, like an X-ray or MRI, may be ordered to further evaluate your knee.
Don't I need my meniscus?
It is always best to have your own normal meniscus. However, when a meniscus is torn beyond repair, it is best to remove the torn part. The tear will not heal on its own. Leaving a torn, unstable meniscus in the knee can result in further damage to the joint surfaces. Also, the area that is tore is not functioning normally, so if it is a source of pain, it is best to remove it, which is called a "partial menisectomy".
Certain tears are repairable, but it is very dependent of the age of the person, and size and location of the tear. If the meniscus tear is repairable, then it is best to perform a meniscus repair and stitch the torn area and hopefully allow it to heal.
How do you treat a meniscus tear?
Treatment of a meniscus tear depends on several factors including the type of tear, activity level and age of the patient, and the response to simple treatment measures. Not all meniscus tears require surgery. Some people are able to live and function with a meniscus tear and avoid surgery depending on their symptoms and the exact circumstances of the tear. Nonsurgical treatment may include ice, rest, elevation, anti-inflammatory medications, cortisone injection and physical therapy. If your symptoms persist or your tear is a type that requires surgery, your may need a knee arthroscopic surgery to repair or remove the torn piece of meniscus. You should speak with your doctor directly regarding the most appropriate meniscus tear treatment, length of recovery and expected outcome for you.