A meniscus tear is, unfortunately, a common condition, which can be very painful and debilitating. A meniscus tear is believed to be one of the most frequent cartilage injuries of the knee. The meniscus is a piece of cartilage in the knee, which has the function of cushioning and stabilizing the joint. It can protect the bones from wear and tear. There are two menisci located in each knee known as the medial and the lateral menisci. However, only a good twist of the knee can tear the meniscus. There are cases, where a piece of the shredded cartilage can break loose and catch in the knee joint, which can cause it to lock up.
Meniscus tears occur often while doing contact sports, such as football, but also during noncontact sports, which require a lot of jumping or cutting, such as soccer and volleyball. A meniscus tear can also occur if a person changes direction at the same time while running and there are cases where it occurs accompanied by another knee injury, such as an anterior cruciate ligament injury. The meniscus gets weaker and weaker as we age, which is why older people are at an increased risk of suffering from it.
A meniscus tear is difficult to prevent, as it is typically caused by an accident. However, it is important to take some precautions which might lower the risk of suffering a knee injury. You must exercise your thigh muscles, as this can help the health of your knees. It is also important to warm-up before doing activities, remain flexible, wears shoes that fit correctly and provide enough support and never abruptly increase the intensity of your workout.
What are the symptoms of a meniscus tear?
A meniscus tear can lead to swelling, pain in the knee, a popping sensation that occurs during the injury, issues when straightening or bending the leg, or a tendency for the knee to lock up or get stuck. Right after the injury, the pain might not be that bad and you might even be able to play through it. However, as soon as the inflammation sets in, the knee might begin to hurt even more.
You must speak to your local pain physician if you suspect a meniscus tear. A medial meniscus tear can more commonly occur than a lateral meniscus tear. Your doctor will first perform a physical exam and ask you about your injury. You might also need an X-ray, which can help to rule out other issues or a broken bone. In some cases, you might also need an MRI scan, which can provide your doctor with a more detailed picture of the knee cartilage.
Treatment for Meniscus Tear
Treatment for a meniscus tear depends on the location of the tear as well as the size. Other factors can influence the treatment as well, such as activity level, age, or related injuries. The outer portion of the meniscus, other known as the red zone, is well supplied with blood and can heal on its own in cases where the tear is small. The inner two-thirds of the meniscus are other known as the white zone and aren’t as well supplied with blood.
A tear in this section will not heal on its own, as the lacking blood supply also means that not enough healing nutrients reach it for it to be able to heal on its own. A lateral meniscus tear treatment might be different from a medial meniscus tear treatment.
Not all cases of a meniscus tear require surgery. In cases where the knee is still stable and doesn’t lock up, symptoms might resolve with the help of conservative treatment methods. It can be very helpful to rest the knee and limit any types of activities, which are painful for your knee. This can sometimes include even walking.
It is recommended to use crutches during the healing period, as this can help to relieve pain. Putting ice on your knee for 15 minutes a couple of times a day can help to reduce swelling and provide pain relief. It is also recommended to compress the knee, as this can help to relieve swelling. You can use a neoprene-type sleeve or an elastic bandage. Another way of helping your knee to heal better is by keeping your knee elevated with a pillow under the heel whenever you are lying down or sitting down.
Anti-inflammatory medications, such as naproxen or aspirin can not only provide pain relief but can also help to reduce swelling. Such drugs also come with side effects, such as an increased risk of ulcers or bleeding. It is important to use such medications only occasionally. Speak to your local doctor at Downtown Pain Physicians about whether or not it is safe for you to use them more frequently.
Strengthening and stretching exercises can also help to reduce the pressure that is put on your knee, which can help the meniscus tear to heal. Speak to your doctor about the possibility of seeing a physical therapist, who can show you how best to do such exercises. You must avoid doing impact activities, such as jumping or running.
Such conservative treatments aren’t always sufficient. In cases where the tear is large and the knee is unstable or leads to locking symptoms, surgery might be necessary, as this can help to repair and remove unstable edges. The procedure is in most cases very simple and the patient can leave and go home on the very same day. It might be necessary to use a brace afterward for protecting the knee. The short-term results of such surgery for meniscus tear are excellent in as many as 90% of the cases. However, speaking long-term, those who have suffered a large meniscal injury might develop into knee arthritis.
Recovering from a meniscus tear and how long it will take can depend on many factors. One of them is how severe the tear is and what treatment is necessary. If you need surgery, you might need 4 to 6 weeks to recover from it, depending on what kind of surgery is performed, as well as many other factors. It is also important to keep in mind that different people heal differently.
Physical therapy can help to minimize complications from surgery and to speed up recovery. You must speak to your doctor about what types of activity you can take up after the surgery, as well as what type of activity you can start doing. You must start with low-impact activity, such as swimming. It is just as important that you take your time and don’t rush things. You mustn’t try to go back to your old level of physical activity until your knee is no longer swollen, until the injured knee is as strong as the uninjured one, until you no longer feel pain in the knee when you walk, jog, jump or sprint or until you fully straighten the knee and bend it without pain. If you begin using the knee before it healing, it can worsen your injury.
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Can you prevent a meniscus tear?
A meniscus tear is difficult to prevent, as it is typically caused by an accident. However, it is important to take some precautions which might lower the risk of suffering a knee injury. You must exercise your thigh muscles, as this can help the health of your knees. It is also important to warm-up before doing activities, remains flexible, wear shoes that fit correctly and provide enough support and never abruptly increase the intensity of your workout. You must make changes in the intensity of your workout slowly.
Do you have any questions about Meniscus Tear? Would you like to schedule an appointment with the best doctor for sports injuries in Downtown Brooklyn and Lower Manhattan? Please call our office for a consultation and indicate which location you want to visit.
The information on this website is to provide general information. In no way does any of the information provided reflect definitive treatment advice. It is essential to consult a best-in-class pain management specialist in New York regarding ANY questions or issues. A thorough evaluation should ALWAYS be performed for an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan. Be sure to call your pain doctor to schedule a consultation.
Dr. Raj Raval, M.D.
- Board Certified
- Interventional Pain & Musculoskeletal Medicine Specialist
Education & training
- SUNY Downstate PMR Residency
- Rutgers University Fellowship