A meniscus is a tough, rubbery, wedge-shaped piece of cartilage that helps to cushion the knee and keep it stable. The meniscii are located in the knee joint, where the thighbone and shinbone meet. While anyone of any age can tear a meniscus, athletes are particularly susceptible, particularly those who play contact sports. There are different types of meniscal tears, and treatment will largely depend on the severity and type of tear.
Causes and Symptoms
The meniscus can degenerate over time, growing weaker and wearing thin. This makes the cartilage more likely to tear. In this case, an awkward twist of the knee can sometimes be all it takes to tear a meniscus.
The meniscus can also tear suddenly, even with no degeneration present. This type of tear usually occurs during athletic activity, either by twisting the knee, or as a result of direct contact.
Most people are still able to walk after a meniscal tear, but usually feel pain, followed by stiffness and swelling over the next few days. Some people also feel a “popping” sensation when the meniscus tears, or feel like the knee is giving out from under them. Other possible symptoms include a feeling of catching or locking in the knee, and an inability to move the knee through its full range of motion.
The McMurray test is often used to help diagnose a meniscal tear. During this test, the doctor bends the knee, then straightens and rotates it, putting tension on the meniscus. If the meniscus is torn, the movement will result in a clicking sound every time the doctor performs the test.
Treatment and Recovery
It is very important to get treatment for a torn meniscus, as a piece of the cartilage could loosen and drift into the joint. This could result in slipping, popping, or locking in the knee.
Depending on the location and severity of the tear, there are both nonsurgical and surgical treatment options. The outer third of the meniscus is often called the “red zone” because it has a rich blood supply. Sometimes, tears in this area heal on their own. The inner two-thirds of the meniscus are known as the “white zone” because this area lacks a blood supply. Tears in this area cannot heal on their own, and are usually trimmed away via surgery.
Surgery may not be necessary if the tear is small and located on the outer edge of the meniscus. Nonsurgical treatment methods may be used for these types of tears, as long as the knee maintains its stability, and symptoms do not persist.
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDS), like aspirin and ibuprofen, are often used to help with inflammation and swelling. The RICE method (Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation) is also effective for sports injuries.
- Rest – You will need to take a break from athletic activity while your knee heals. Dr. Bascharon may also recommend crutches to help you avoid putting weight on the injured knee.
- Ice – Apply a cold pack for 20 minutes at a time, several times a day.
- Compression – Wear an elastic compression bandage to help prevent further swelling and blood loss.
- Elevation – When at rest, elevate your leg so that it is higher than your heart. This will help reduce swelling.
If the tear is severe, or nonsurgical treatment methods do not relieve symptoms, surgery may be necessary.
Meniscal tears can usually be repaired with arthroscopy. During arthroscopic surgery, a tiny camera is inserted into a small incision, allowing the surgeon to easily view the inside of the knee and perform the surgery without having to make a large incision.
Depending on the severity of the tear, Dr. Bascharon may perform a meniscectomy, during which any damaged cartilage is trimmed away. Depending on the type of tear, the torn meniscus can sometimes be repaired by suturing, or stitching, the two pieces together.
Generally, a patient undergoing a meniscal repair will have a longer recovery time than one undergoing a meniscectomy, because the meniscus will need more time to heal together. On average, a meniscal repair will require about three months of recovery time, while a meniscectomy may only require about three to four weeks.
Following surgery, your knee may be placed in a brace to immobilize it. If you had meniscal repair surgery, you may also need to use crutches for up to a month to keep weight off your knee.
Rehabilitation is also a very important part of recovery. You will begin with exercises to help improve the knee’s range of motion, then gradually move on to strengthening exercises. Many of these exercises can be done at home, but you may also see a physical therapist following surgery.
With the proper treatment, most patients are able to resume their normal activities, including athletics.
Meniscal Tear Treatment in Las Vegas, NV
Dr. Bascharon strives to provide the most up-to-date, cutting-edge treatment solutions for her patients. She has vast experience in sports medicine, working with athletes of all levels and ages, and has received several awards for her excellence in service. If you would like to learn more about Dr. Bascharon’s services, or schedule an appointment, please contact her office at (702) 947-7790.