Meniscus tears are among the most common knee injuries. When people talk about torn cartilage in the knee, they are usually referring to a torn meniscus. Your meniscus is a wedge-shaped piece of cartilage that sits between the thigh bone and the shin bone. It acts as a shock absorber and provides some stability to the knee. The meniscus is tough and rubbery to help cushion the joint and keep it stable.
Sudden meniscus tears commonly occur with sports. Players may squat and twist the knee causing a tear. Older people are more prone to degenerative meniscus tears due to the cartilage weakening and thinning over time – just an awkward twist when walking or getting up from a chair may be enough to cause a tear.
When a meniscus tear occurs, people typically feel or hear a pop. The majority of people can still walk. Over the next 2-3 days, there may be the following symptoms:
• Increased pain with twisting the knee
• Stiffness and swelling
• Catching or locking of the knee
• The sensation of “giving way”
• Decreased range of motion
When diagnosing a meniscus tear, a thorough examination is done to check for range of motion, swelling and tenderness along the joint line, as well as pain or a clicking sensation. Some imaging tests may be ordered to help confirm the diagnosis, such as an x-ray or MRI.
Based on the type, size and location of the tear, there are a few options. If the meniscus has rich blood supply, it may heal on its own over 2-3 months. If symptoms persist but the knee is stable, nonsurgical treatment may be all that is needed. This involves protection, rest, ice, compression and elevation. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications may be prescribed to help reduce pain and swelling
If the meniscus lacks a good blood supply, however, these tears do not heal. Tears in this zone are usually surgically trimmed away. So, the type of tear, your age, activity level and any related injuries help determine the treatment plan. Immediately after surgery, weight-bearing and activities are restricted for a period of time. Once the initial healing is complete, exercises are prescribed for rehabilitation exercises to restore range of motion and strength if necessary. For the most part, this can be done at home. Rehabilitation takes about 3 months. Stay the course and your therapy team will partner with you for your health and wellness.