A meniscus tear is one of the most common sports-related injuries to the knee.
The meniscus is the C-shaped rubbery cushion of cartilage 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.
Meniscal tears 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. Although this injury often occurs to athletes who play high energy and contact sports, you don’t have to be playing a sport to tear your meniscus. The act of simply stepping out of your car may cause a tear.
Symptoms of a Torn Meniscus
The most common symptoms of a torn meniscus include pain and swelling, persistent soreness on one side of the knee and sometimes a tendency for the knee to lock or have difficulty straightening. Diagnosis is usually made by taking an x-ray and MRI. Unfortunately, the meniscus cannot heal itself due to the lack of blood supply in that area. Some patients achieve relief from a steroidal injection into the affected area however if the problem returns, surgery may be needed.
If surgery is recommended, it will most likely involve a 20 to 30 minute arthroscopic procedure performed through two or three tiny incisions in the knee. A small camera or scope is inserted through one incision for the surgeon to examine the interior of the joint as well as guide the procedure. Through the other incision(s), the surgeon will use specially designed instruments to trim and fashion the rough and frayed edges of the damaged cartilage into a smooth shape. In some cases, it may be possible to repair a tear in the cartilage by sewing it back together. Most of the time patients are able to resume their normal sports activities within four weeks.