Considering how important our knees are to everything we do, it's incredible how little thought we give to them. Our knees bear all of our body weight when we stand, walk, run, or jump, and we rely on them for almost all of our daily tasks. Yet one wrong twist, and with a popping sound and a tearing sensation, a meniscus tear can make our knees painful, unstable, and swollen. That's why doctors at Rothman Institute are dedicated to providing the meniscus tear treatments that are so crucial to getting you back on your feet and doing the activities you love.
Why did my knee just "pop?"
The meniscus is a special type of cartilage called fibrocartilage that lines the top of the tibia, the larger bone in your lower leg. This fibrocartilage distributes your weight evenly across the bones of your leg, and acts as a shock absorber when you move. It also cushions the joint between your tibia and your femur, or thigh bone, so that the bones glide smoothly over each other rather than scraping or locking.
Meniscus tears usually happen when you twist your knee sharply without moving your foot the same direction. This is most common for athletes, but it can happen to anyone, even when doing regular tasks like standing up. These injuries can be acute, happening in the moment, or as a result of wear and tear that comes with age.
Many people hear a "pop!" come from their knee when they suffer a meniscal tear, a sound often accompanied by a ripping or tearing sensation. Aside from these, symptoms of a torn meniscus can include:
- Swelling of the knee from blood in the joint
- Pain when moving or putting weight on the knee
- The knee catching or locking in place
- Feeling that something is out of place in the joint
Often, many of these symptoms subside after a while, though pain and locking of the joint may persist with certain activities if you don't seek treatment.
Diagnosing a Tear in the Meniscus
When you visit your doctor about a possible meniscal tear, she will perform an examination on your knee and leg. This will involve turning and pressing on the knee joint in different ways to try to elicit symptoms like pain and locking. Your doctor may also order a Magnetic Resonance Imaging scan (MRI) of your knee to get a better look at the structures within the joint. The doctor will likely not order an x-ray of your knee, since the meniscus, like many other body tissues, is not visible on an x-ray.
Once you've been diagnosed with a meniscus tear, your physician will talk to you about treatment options.
Options for Meniscus Tear Treatments
It is important to talk to a specialist about meniscus tear treatments in order to repair the injury to your knee. A specialist like those at Rothman Institute can help you decide which options are best depending on your age, overall health, and level of daily activity, as well as the location and severity of the tear. Treatments for young athletes may be very different from those for an older person who spends most of their day behind a desk. These options are:
1. Non-surgical treatment for meniscus tears
Non-surgical meniscus tear treatments involve physical therapy and use of over-the-counter pain relievers under a doctor's supervision until swelling recedes, and the symptoms go away. The meniscus is not a part of the body that will heal on its own, therefore this type of treatment works only for those with very small tears, or those who do not have a particularly active lifestyle. Younger people often suffer more complications from non-surgical treatments.
2. Surgery to repair the meniscus
In cases where a tear is small, or in the outer third of the meniscus, which receives blood flow and can heal, the doctor may put small sutures or tacks in place to hold the meniscus together and encourage it to repair itself.
3. Surgery to remove the torn part of the meniscus
When the meniscus is injured too severely, is injured in a place where it does not receive blood flow, or is torn as a result of long term wear, your surgeon may decide that the best option is to remove the torn piece of meniscus.
Next Steps: Contact an Orthopaedist
If you have been diagnosed with a meniscal tear, or suspect that you have one, it's important to see a doctor about treatment. Orthopaedic physicians at Rothman Institute are available to discuss options for meniscus tear treatments with you. For more information, please visit us here or contact us at 1-800-321-9999.