The all too common knee cartilage tear.

The meniscus is a piece of tough, smooth, rubbery cartilage in the middle of your knee. Each of your knees have a meniscus on the inside (medial meniscus) and another on the outside (lateral meniscus). Each meniscus attaches to the top of your shin bone (tibia) and acts as a shock absorbent guide for your thigh bone (femur), which rests above.

Damage or tears to the meniscus are common. Males are affected three or four times more often than females. Tears may occur at any age. In children and adolescents, the menisci are more durable and rubbery, so most injures are “traumatic” as a result of a forceful twisting injury. As we age, our meniscus grows weaker, and “degenerative” tears become more likely, often resulting from simple or even unrecognized injuries.

Symptoms of meniscus injury depend on the type and severity of damage. Patients sometimes hear a pop or snap at the time of initial injury. Patients with acute injuries may have difficulty bearing weight and may develop a limp. Stiffness is a common complaint. Clicking, catching, locking or giving-way is possible. Meniscus injuries are usually aggravated by movement and become particularly uncomfortable with deep squatting.

Although some meniscus injuries may require surgery, most can be treated conservatively with the type of treatments provided in our office. Your age roughly correlates with the need for surgery. Approximately 2/3 of acute meniscal tears in children and adolescents will require surgery, but only about 1 in 20 patients over the age of 40 will require knee arthroscopy. Surgery is necessary more often in patients who cannot fully bend or straighten their leg, or whose knee locks and gets stuck in one place.

Home management includes rest, ice, compression and elevation (RICE). You should apply ice over your knee for 15 minutes at a time, three or four times a day. Wrapping an ACE bandage around your knee will provide compression to help minimize swelling. You may elevate your leg by placing a pillow beneath your knee to help reduce swelling.

You may need to limit your activity to prevent further damage while you are recovering from injury. Activities that involve twisting on a weight-bearing flexed knee are the most harmful. You may need to temporarily or permanently discontinue some high energy sports activity. Other activities, like water walking, may be substituted for higher energy sports, like soccer and tennis. Ice or ice massage should be used following activity.

Patients who have undergone surgical repair of their meniscus are more likely to develop arthritis. These patients will also benefit from a well-planned home exercise program.


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