Meniscus tears are among the most common knee injuries. Athletes, particularly those who play contact sports, are at risk of meniscus tears; however, anyone at any age can tear the meniscus. When people talk about torn cartilage in the knee, they are usually referring to a torn meniscus.
The menisci are two C-shaped pieces of cartilage located in each knee joint, acting as shock absorbers to reduce the forces going through the knee joint. They are made of tough fibrocartilage and are situated between the femur (thigh bone) and tibia (shin bone). The menisci help to transmit weight from one bone to another and play an important role in knee stability.
Acute meniscus tears often result from sudden twisting or rotating movements of the knee joint, particularly during sports or activities that involve cutting or pivoting, squatting, or heavy impact.
Meniscus tears can also occur due to age related joint degeneration. Aged, worn tissue is more prone to tears; an awkward twist when getting up from a chair, or out of the car, may be enough to cause a tear in a worn meniscus.
The symptoms of a meniscal injury can vary depending on the severity and location of the tear. Common symptoms include:
To diagnose a meniscus injury, your knee specialist will perform a thorough clinical evaluation, including:
During a physical examination, your knee consultant will assess your range of movement and how you move and walk. They will also look for signs of swelling and tenderness along the joint line where the meniscus sits.
One of the main tests for meniscus tears is the McMurray test. This involves bending your knee, then straightening and rotating it; this puts tension on a torn meniscus. If you have a meniscus tear, this movement will likely cause pain, clicking, or a clunking sensation within the joint.
There can be a crossover of symptoms with other knee injuries, therefore your specialist may order imaging tests to help confirm the diagnosis and check if any other structures are also involved.
X-rays: X-rays provide excellent images of bones which make them the test of choice for conditions such as fractures and osteoarthritis, however an X-ray will not show a meniscus tear. If your doctor needs to rule other causes out, they might suggest you have an x-ray.
Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scans: An MRI provides 3D images which scan assesses the soft tissues in your knee joint in high detail, including the menisci, cartilage, tendons, and ligaments.
The treatment for a meniscal injury depends on various factors, including the size, location, and type of tear, as well as the patient’s activity level. Treatment options include:
Arthroscopic surgery involves inserting a small camera and surgical instruments through tiny incisions in the knee. The surgeon can then trim or repair the torn meniscus. Outcomes and recovery depend on the extent of the injury and the type of surgery performed:
Can a meniscus tear heal on its own without surgery?
Small, stable tears in the meniscus may heal on their own with rest and conservative treatment. However, larger or complex tears often require surgical intervention.
How long does it take to recover from meniscus surgery?
Recovery time varies based on the type of surgery and the extent of the injury. In general, patients can expect a few weeks to several months for full recovery.
Can I return to sports after meniscus surgery?
Depending on the extent of the injury and the type of surgery, many individuals can return to sports and physical activities after successful rehabilitation.
Is physiotherapy necessary after meniscus surgery?
Yes, physiotherapy is crucial to regain knee strength, range of motion, and stability after meniscus surgery.
Are meniscus injuries preventable?
While it may not be entirely preventable, maintaining strong leg muscles, using proper techniques during sports, and avoiding excessive stress on the knee can help reduce the risk of meniscal injuries.
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