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  • Writer's pictureDr. Terrell Joseph

Common Knee Injuries - The Meniscus Tear

Meniscus Tears - An Overview

One of the most common knee injuries we see in the active sports world is a torn meniscus. Any activity that causes you to twist or rotate your knee forcefully (especially when you put all your weight on it) may cause this injury.

There are two menisci in each of your knees. The menisci are C-shaped cartilage that act as a cushion. A torn meniscus leads to pain, swelling, and stiffness. You may also experience a restriction of movement, and have difficulty fully stretching your knee.

Conservative therapy is sometimes sufficient to alleviate torn meniscus pain and to lead to full healing. In this case, we may employ ice, rest, and pain-relievers. However, this injury may require surgical repair in some cases.

What is the Meniscus?

Your knee meniscus is fibrocartilage that distances your shin bone (tibia) from the thigh bone (femur). It's frequently called your "cushion cartilage." There is a medial meniscus, and a lateral meniscus in each knee joint.

The meniscus is uniquely shaped. It appears in the shape of a wedged kidney. With good reason: your meniscus acts as a "wedge" to assist with the anterior cruciate ligament's rotational stability.

The Meniscus As a Shock Absorber

Another function of the meniscus is to absorb shock. The knee absorbs tremendous forces as we walk, run, and jump. Your meniscus will help to absorb these forces in order not to damage the bone surfaces.

Hence the term cushion cartilage.

As the velocity of motion rises from walking to running to jumping, the quantity of force improves exponentially. Instead of isolating forces, your meniscus helps disperse the compressive forces over the entire knee.

The Meniscus Tear

Meniscus Tears can occur as a result of too much pressure and twisting upon a flexed knee

Now let's talk about meniscus tears— how do they happen?

In our younger population, the meniscus is usually traumatically torn by twisting on a slightly flexed knee.

Sports often play a role in these traumatic type of meniscal injuries. It's an injury that often happens to our soccer players, basketball players, skiers, and even golfers. From a logistical perspective, the meniscus may be torn from the front to the back, radially (parrot beak), or may occur as a "bucket handle tear."

In the older adult, the tear may be due to natural, age-related meniscus degeneration, or tearing into the softer meniscus of a rough arthritic femoral bone layer. In this case, both the meniscal repair and the repair of the damaged joint surface may require surgery.

Diagnosing a Meniscus Tear

We've gotten pretty adept at diagnosing this injury efficiently, and we have several tools at our disposal. First, let's talk about immediate symptoms.

After tearing your meniscus, you may experience the following:

  • Knee clicking

  • Knee locking

  • Knee popping

Usually, these symptoms also result in pain along the joint line, as well as swelling. Other ways that we know you've torn the meniscus

  • Clinical examination of the knee joint may reveal tenderness

  • Bending or squatting will cause pain.

  • We may also use McMurray's test to confirm a diagnosis of meniscus tears.

What Happens If Meniscus Tears Are Not Treated?

Left untreated, within the tear may deteriorate and become loose, leading to a locking or "giving way" of the knee. Untreated tears may also stretch, causing further harm. We recommend having this injury looked at as soon as possible.

Is Surgery Always Needed For a Meniscus Tear?

Meniscus Tears Do Not Always Need Surgery

Good news. This injury will not always require surgery. If we decide that you don't need surgery, your meniscal tear will usually take up to six or eight weeks to heal completely. Some meniscal tears will require surgery.

Even if you don't need surgery, it is important to avoid activities and exercises that place excessive stress on your meniscus.

These activities can undoubtedly delay healing. In some cases, we may recommend keeping weight off your knee completely. Crutches may be used in this case.

Dr. Terrell Joseph - An Expert in Treating Meniscus Tears

Dr. Joseph has years of experience treating this injury. In our active population (Vail and Summit County), these injuries are an everyday occurrence. Contact Dr. Joseph today to get your meniscus tear diagnosed and treated with care, compassion, and skill.

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