One of the most common summer sports injuries is a torn meniscus (knee cartilage). Although an injury that happens year-round in high energy and contact sports athletes, many people increase their risk for knee injuries during the summer when their involvement in sports intensifies.
The meniscus is a C-shaped rubbery cushion that serves as a shock absorber between the bottom of the thigh bone and the top of the shin bone. The meniscus helps to evenly distribute the body’s weight over the knee joint and allows the joint to move and turn smoothly.
With so much emphasis on staying healthy and keeping active, meniscal tears are on the rise and often occur in combination with other injuries such as a ligament tear to the ACL or MCL. Tennis players commonly run, twist and pivot as they play. Likewise, a golfer’s swing relies heavily on a twisting motion through the body. A sudden twist too far or a stumble can strain the knee beyond its normal range, causing injury to the cartilage. However, you don’t have to be involved in sports to tear your meniscus. Even day to day activities like getting out of a car have been known to cause a meniscus tear.
The most common symptoms of a torn meniscus are pain and swelling, persistent soreness on one side of the knee and sometimes a tendency for the knee to lock or have difficulty straightening. A diagnosis is made by x-ray and MRI. Unfortunately, the meniscus cannot heal itself due to the lack of blood supply in that area. Fortunately, a simple 20 to 30 minute surgery can be done that will allow the knee to function normally again.
Orthopaedic surgeon and sports medicine specialist Dr. James Cunningham explains the procedure; “we trim the rough and frayed edges of the cartilage what takes 20 to 30 minutes and most patients are able to resume their normal sports activities within four weeks.” The surgery is done arthroscopically through two or three tiny incisions in the knee; one for a small camera or scope and the other for the surgeon to trim and fashion the damaged cartilage into a smooth shape. In some cases where the damage is confined to the outside edges of the cartilage, it may be possible to repair the tear by sewing it back together.
Symptoms of pain and swelling in the knee should not be ignored and ought to be checked out by an orthopedist to avoid further and possibly more serious damage.