Treating Meniscal Tears

Treating Meniscal Tears

by Shearly (SU)

The knee is one of the most complex joints in the body, so it's no wonder pain in that area can really set you back. Knee pain is very common, happening to 1 in 5 people, according to the American Academy of Pain Medicine.  It can occur out of the blue, after a long tennis match, a long walk, or following a sports injury or an accident. One of the more common reasons for knee pain is from a torn or worn meniscus.

If you ever had any sort of injury, especially a knee injury, you probably appreciate how your knees power you through various sports and activities: kicking, jumping, running, and pivoting. We often hear of the common term torn meniscus with athletes and sports. The meniscus is a rubbery, C-shaped disc that cushions your knee.

Each knee has two menisci, one at the outer edge of the knee and one at the inner edge. The meniscus helps keep your knee steady by balancing your weight across the knee. A torn meniscus can prevent your knee from working right. When people or athletes tear their meniscus, it means tearing the cartilage in the knee. In an athlete, a torn meniscus most often happens from hyperextending the knee or often twisting or turning too quickly, with the foot planted while the knee is bent. Meniscus tears can also occur when you lift something heavy or play sports. As you get older, your meniscus gets worn. This can make it tear more easily.

How do you know if the meniscus is torn?

The first and most common symptom is popping, sharp pain, catching, and locking. Often with meniscal tears, the knee can feel like it gets stuck at irregular times, sometimes with walking, sometimes standing from a seated position, and sometimes for no reason at all.  Frequently, there is swelling or fullness in the knee and the swelling is felt as pain in the back of the knee. However, it is important to note that not all tears cause pain, and treatment often depends on the person.

How to treat a meniscal tear:

The question is: if I have a torn meniscus do I need to get it fixed? Unfortunately, torn knee cartilage is not very good at regenerating on Its own. Tissues require a good blood supply to heal, and while blood capillaries do feed the outer edges of the meniscus, the central parts of the meniscus are avascular, meaning having no blood supply, so the tear can’t properly heal on its own. There are two options with meniscal tears:

1. Non-Surgical Methods:

·       RICE Method: (Rest, Ice Compression, Elevate) Icing can help reduce knee swelling and reduce pain after a meniscal tear. In addition, it is important to stay away from any activity that inflames your pain.

·       Exercises: Building up the strength of the muscles surrounding the knee joint helps to reduce the amount of weight going through the knee and therefore through the cartilage, and can really help to reduce the effect of a meniscal tear.

·       Braces: A well-designed knee support can also help patients who have suffered an injury, such as a meniscal tear.  Movement will be restricted, and the support a brace can provide can reduce your knee pain.

2. Surgery:

A good physician will tell you that they use surgery as a last resort; telling you that conservative measures should be considered first. If non-surgical methods such as exercising or braces haven’t helped resolve the knee pain from your meniscus injury, your doctor may advise surgery. Most surgery for meniscal tears is performed arthroscopically. During surgery, the surgeon will make two or three small incisions around the knee and insert a camera to get an inside view of the injured area, in this case the meniscal tear in your knee.  The surgeon will remove any debris (torn bits of cartilage) and sew up any other tears. Following meniscus injury surgery, it is recommended and important to exercise, in order to regain full strength, movement and balance of your knee.

If you think you may be suffering from a meniscus tear, call Watauga Orthopedics at (423) 282-9011 to request an appointment.