The average person takes more than 5,0001 steps every single day. Over the days, months, and years, these strides add up to thousands upon thousands of leagues quite literally under your knees. As you might imagine, this mileage can erode your joints, especially your beleaguered knees. Beyond this natural wear and tear, the knee joint is often injured during sports competitions, and meniscus tears are quite common.
Interestingly enough, meniscus tears aren’t always the result of direct trauma to the knee. In fact, many meniscus tears occur as a result of the cartilage wearing away over time. According to a recent study, more than 40 percent of individuals over the age of 65 have suffered a meniscus tear. This means, based on the odds alone, many of us will one day experience a full or partial meniscus tear. So, what are your options after suffering a mild or severe meniscus tear? Let’s take a look at the injury, the symptoms, and the potential treatment options.
A meniscus injury or meniscus tear is defined as damage to the c-shaped cartilage between the tibia and femur, and it’s one of the most common knee injuries. While a torn meniscus is often a sports-related injury, a meniscus tear can happen to anyone at any age. Per the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, degenerative meniscus tears are common in older adults2, especially those suffering from knee arthritis symptoms.
There are two major categories of meniscus tears: medial and lateral. The difference between medial and lateral meniscus tears simply comes down to location. Each knee joint consists of two menisci. (Fun Fact: menisci is the plural form of meniscus.) The medial meniscus is located on the inner side of joint, while the lateral meniscus is on the outer side.
How do you know if you tore your meniscus? Only a medical professional can diagnose your injury. However, there are telltale signs of a potential meniscus tear. In the next section, we will explain many of the most common meniscus tear symptoms.
Is a torn meniscus painful? Well, that depends. Common torn meniscus symptoms do include pain, stiffness, and localized swelling. Pain symptoms may be more noticeable when the knee with the torn meniscus is rotated or has weight put on it. However, while many meniscus tears will include pain as a symptom, tears resulting from cartilage degeneration over time may go nearly unnoticed. In fact, in a recent study of middle-aged and older adults with MRI-diagnosed meniscus tears, 61 percent3 had not noticed any pain, aching, or stiffness in the previous month.
Can you walk with a torn meniscus? This depends on the severity of the injury. Many individuals are still capable of putting weight on the affected knee and even walking normally after a meniscus injury. In fact, many athletes can even continue playing after a meniscus injury. That said, initial levels of functionality can be deceiving, as it may take a few days for knee pain, swelling, and stiffness to set in after the injury occurs.
If you are having difficulty extending your leg following an injury, or if your knee locks up, this could be the result of a common meniscus injury known as a bucket handle meniscus tear, characterized by loose cartilage adrift in the knee. Knee instability and locked knee symptoms, including the knee locking up during normal movement, are all common following a meniscus tear.
During the initial trauma, many individuals report not only feeling a pop in the knee, but to also hearing an audible popping sound. This pop can also coincide with debilitating pain. Knee popping and locking is an unsettling experience for many, but this is to be expected with more severe meniscus tears. Your doctor will use imaging testing, such an X-ray or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), to accurately diagnose your knee injury.
Before utilizing more sophisticated imaging, your doctor may guide you through a series of movements to test the overall mobility of the knee joint and pinpoint the underlying knee injury. In this way, your doctor can also rule out other possible knee injuries and conditions. The circumduction knee test (also known as the McMurray test) is used to demonstrate knee locking, knee clicking, pain, general mobility limitations, and instability. This test will identify any protruding meniscus “tags” or fully adrift loose bodies in the knee. (These loose bodies could be small pieces of bone, cartilage, or other tissues.) A loose body in the knee will prevent the knee from moving optimally and may also cause the knee to catch and lock up.
A torn meniscus is one of the most common knee injuries we treat. Whether it’s caused by wear and tear, a sports-related injury, or simply a knee injury from falling down, many patients (especially those reluctant to undergo surgery) ask how to heal a meniscus naturally.
The answer to this question depends on the severity of the meniscus injury. It’s best to seek professional meniscus tear treatment advice before attempting to diagnose or treat your injury at home. It is also important to note that the meniscus receives only minimal blood flow. This is one of the reasons a meniscus tear will not normally heal itself without surgery or treatment -- especially if the tear is more than one centimeter4 in length. Physical therapy can be used to add flexibility and strengthen the knee joint and surrounding tissues. However, without surgery, it is possible in certain scenarios for portions of the torn meniscus to separate from the healthy cartilage and “drift” in the joint itself. (This may result in the aforementioned knee locking and knee popping symptoms, as well as limiting the overall knee range of motion.)
Similarly, studies have repeatedly shown that meniscal damage5 from a surgically untreated knee injury or meniscus tear may increase your chances of developing radiographic osteoarthritis later in life. Patients often eventually choose to undergo surgery to repair a torn meniscus, sometimes years after the injury. Is meniscus surgery your best option, or should you first consider meniscus physical therapy? Let’s take a look...
At Sports Medicine Oregon, we pride ourselves on taking a personalized approach to your meniscus tear injury and then designing a plan of action. Whether your meniscus tear is the result of a sports injury, accident, or wear and tear over time, there are many treatment options to choose from. Depending on the severity of the injury, your age, activity level, and other factors, meniscus tear physical therapy may be the right treatment option for your meniscus injury. Initially, these meniscus tear exercises will focus on restoring knee flexibility, followed by strengthening the surrounding tissues to increase stability. If you do undergo meniscus tear surgery, your treatment plan will include post-surgical meniscus tear exercises as well.
At Sports Medicine Oregon, we are here to support joint health, without getting in the way of what your body does best. Nonetheless, meniscus tear surgery is often the best option to treat your full or partially torn meniscus and restore healthy function.
Arthroscopic meniscus tear surgery and partial meniscectomies are common procedures used to correct full or partial meniscus tears. These arthroscopic knee surgeries often involve shaving or removing damaged portions of the knee cartilage. During a partial meniscectomy, the surgeon will remove damaged portions of the meniscus and smooth over rough parts of the cartilage.
We also specialize in knee chondroplasty to repair knee cartilage damage. What is chondroplasty knee surgery? During a typical chondroplasty, damaged cartilage is removed via small incisions on the side of the joint, allowing new healthy cartilage to develop.
On the other hand (or knee, if you will), during a meniscus transplant surgery, the torn or damaged cartilage is replaced with a graft made from donor knee tissue. Today, knee cartilage regeneration surgery is an increasingly popular option. At Sports Medicine Oregon, we also offer torn meniscus treatments, designed to repair defects in meniscus cartilage by regenerating the existing hyaline cartilage in the patient’s knee.
The expected recovery time for each knee injury will depend on the patient and the severity of the injury. After arthroscopic meniscus surgery, most individuals should expect the rehabilitation process to last roughly three months. With meniscectomies specifically, patients should anticipate a flexible recovery timetable of about one month. During this time, your doctor will prescribe a series of postsurgical knee exercises to help increase knee flexibility and also strengthen the surrounding tissues. Once we’ve designed a regimen and meniscus tear recovery strategy for you, these exercises can be performed at home in your spare time to better accommodate your schedule and lifestyle.
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1 - https://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/10/19/the-pedometer-test-americans-take-fewer-steps/?mtrref=www.google.com&gwh=20727FF6A44F432B1BA665E3598B262B&gwt=pay
2 - https://www.niams.nih.gov/newsroom/spotlight-on-research/physical-therapy-treat-torn-meniscus-comparable-surgery-many
3 - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2897006/
4 - https://health.uconn.edu/orthopedics-sports-medicine/conditions-and-treatments/where-does-it-hurt/knee/meniscus-tear/
5 - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2758243/