Inside a Torn Meniscus

One of the most common types of knee injuries, here’s what you need to know about a torn meniscus.

Pain in your knee can put you out of commission for the rest of a season—whether it’s the spring, fall, or basketball season. Knee pain makes simple everyday tasks like walking, climbing stairs, and bending your knee to sit down difficult. Unlike other joints, the knee seems most prone to injury. This may be due to its complex structure that includes three bones, three joints, ligaments, tendons, and cartilage. With the weight it bears and the movements it makes, it’s no wonder so many people suffer from knee injury.

One common knee injury is a torn meniscus. Inside each knee are two meniscuses. These crescent-shaped pieces of cartilage are tough, rubbery shock absorbers located where the thigh bone (femur) meets the shinbone (tibia). A torn meniscus injury is also known as torn cartilage.

Wonder what causes a torn meniscus, what the symptoms are, and how it’s treated? Keep reading to find out.

A Twist

Football, hockey, soccer, tennis, basketball, and more. Meniscus tears are more likely to occur in sports that require squatting, pivoting, twisting, and direct contact with other players. But you don’t have to be playing a sport to tear your meniscus. Sometimes all it takes is a strange rotation, heavy lifting, or kneeling on the floor. Older folks are at an increased risk for meniscus tears due to weakening and thinning cartilage.

A Pop

Many people remember a popping sensation at the moment of meniscus injury. Despite injury, it’s still possible to walk and move around with a torn meniscus. Athletes are known to keep playing following a tear, though they’ll feel it later.

Symptoms of a torn meniscus cartilage worsen over the course of a few days and include pain, swelling, tenderness, stiffness, limited range of motion, and the feeling your knee is giving way or locking up. If left untreated a torn meniscus may cause the knee to slip, lock, or pop. You may also end up with chronic knee pain, instability, osteoarthritis, and difficulty moving your knee.

A Diagnosis

Make an appointment to see your doctor any time you experience knee pain, swelling, or limited mobility. Through a physical examination and various imaging tests, your doctor will be able to diagnose your knee injury.

The McMurray test is commonly used to identify a torn meniscus. By bending, straightening, and rotating your knee, you may hear a clicking sound that signals a tear. X-rays may be used to rule out other knee conditions, while an MRI gives a clear picture of then extent of a meniscus problem.

A Remedy

Treatment for a torn meniscus depends on the size, location, and type of tear. Your doctor may also take into account your age, fitness level, and other injuries. Many times a tear will heal on its own with the right care. Your treatment plan will likely start with rest, compression, ice, elevation, and over-the-counter pain medication. Severe pain may require the use of crutches. Your doctor may recommend physical therapy to strengthen the muscles surrounding the knee.

If knee pain persists despite home remedies and physical therapy, surgery may be in your future to repair the tear or trim away damaged cartilage. Rehabilitation exercises and a knee brace may be required for several weeks or months following surgery.

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