A common injury to the knee joint is a meniscal tear. Two menisci rest between the femur (thigh bone) and the tibia (shin bone). This structure consists of cartilage and is known as the “shock absorber” of the knee. The meniscus is a wedge-shaped, rubbery cushion that allows the joint to remain stable.
Description of Meniscal Tears
Tearing a meniscus (medial or lateral) can occur in a variety of ways. Common tears include longitudinal, bucket, flap, transverse or a torn horn. The type of tear depends on how the injury occurred. Meniscal tears often occur when there is structural damage, such as an ACL tear.
The Causes of Meniscal Tears
Meniscal tears can result from direct contact or pivoting movements. It’s common for older adults to experience this injury due to degeneration of the cartilage of the knee, resulting from the wearing away of the tissue over time.
Meniscal Tear Symptoms
Many people often say they hear a “pop” but have no problem walking on the injured knee. Some athletes may return to play without realizing the meniscus has torn. And, over time the knee will begin to stiffen and swell. Symptoms include: pain, stiffness, swelling, catching or locking of the knee, feeling as if it will “give way” and inability to move the knee through the full range of motion.
Treatment for Meniscal Tears
Gwinnett Medical Center–Duluth recommends different types of treatment depending on the type, severity, size and location of the tear. A tear on the outer third may heal on its own, whereas a tear on the inner two-thirds will require surgery. Surgical and non-surgical options are available.
Non-surgical Treatment of Meniscal Tears
A stable joint with minimal symptoms may be treated without surgery. Rest, ice, compression and elevation (RICE) will decrease swelling and pain, and increase the range of motion. Rest from activity will shorten the healing process. Ice should be applied to the knee joint for at least 20 minutes, several times a day. Use of a compression wrap, along with elevating the joint above the heart, will help to decrease swelling.
Surgical Treatment of Meniscal Tears
Surgery is completed arthroscopically using a small camera and instruments to trim the tear. Such incisions are small, but allow the camera and tools to enter the joint.
Meniscal Tear Rehabilitation
After surgery, the physician will apply a brace to be worn for a set period of time to protect the knee. Rehabilitative exercises will increase the strength of the surrounding muscles and restore mobility. Most physical therapy exercises can be completed at home.
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