Understanding Meniscus Injury

The meniscus is a piece of elastic cartilage that functions as cushions between the femur (also known as the thighbone) and tibia (or shinbone). – Two menisci are found in each knee joint and both are formed to fit the area it surrounds: The Medial Meniscus located on the inside of the knee is shaped like a C, while the Lateral Meniscus located on the outer side is shaped like a U.

The function of both the Medial and Lateral Meniscus is to ensure a smooth motion between the surfaces of the knee, provide stability, as well as reduce shock and absorb impact on the legs and knee when a person is moving or standing.

A Meniscus Injury or a Meniscal Tear is a common sports injury that varies in severity and pain. Athletes are often the ones who suffer from a Meniscus Injury, particularly those who participate in contact sports. This injury frequently occurs together with other knee injuries such as Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) tears.

What Causes Meniscus Injury?

Meniscal tears are most often caused by severe trauma to the knees during physical activities such as sports. When the leg is over rotated, it can cause the cartilage to tear partially or fully. Other common causes of Meniscus Injury are as follows:

  • A fast and unanticipated force to the knee can cause the joint to flex too far back, tearing the meniscus in the process.
  • Sudden impact to the side or front of the knee can push the joint to move to the side. This can result to a tear on either of the menisci.
  • Rapid steps on uneven surfaces can lead to a disproportionate force on the knees, causing the meniscus to tear or rupture. This typically occur during activities such as trail running or football drills.
Signs and Symptoms

A Meniscus Injury can be classified into three (3) types – A minor, moderate and severe tear, all of which has its own set of symptoms.

If a person has a minor tear, he or she will only experience a slight pain and swelling that usually subsides within 2 to 3 weeks.

For moderate tears, the swelling will slowly manifest and worsen over a period of a few days. (2-3 days) The pain is typically felt at the side or center of the knee, making it feel stiff and limiting how it can be bend. Walking is still possible with a moderate meniscus tear. However, there may be sharp pains when the knee is twisted. Symptoms are reduced after 1 to 2 weeks, but if the tear is left untreated the pain may come and go for years.

In the case of severe meniscus tears, there is a possibility for the parts of the torn cartilage to move into the joint space, causing the knee to lock or pop. Straightening it may not be possible and there is also a chance for the knee to give way without warning. Swelling may occur right after the injury or within 2 to 3 days.

How Is
Meniscus Injury Diagnosed?

A physical exam usually helps the doctor determine if the pain is caused by a torn meniscus. The orthopaedic doctor will inspect the knees to check for tenderness, how it feels when it is bent and straightened and its overall stability.

Different imaging tests can also be done to ensure proper diagnosis on the severity and location of the tear. Some of these includes the following:
  • Knee X-Ray will help determine if there are any other conditions present that may be causing the pain.

  • An MRI can provide pictures of the cartilage and ligaments, showing if there are any signs of meniscus tears, or ligamentous injury.

If the above-mentioned techniques are still unable to determine the cause of the knee pain, then we might suggest for you to undergo an Arthroscopy. In this technique, a thin and flexible fiber-optic device called an arthroscope is used to examine the knee through a small incision.

Treatment Options

An injured knee can be treated with common first-aid techniques such as rest and cold compress. In order to alleviate swelling, pain medications can be taken as well. Aside from this, we also recommend our patients to undergo physical therapy since this can help strengthen the muscles surrounding the knee.

If the injury is too severe that it can no longer be addressed by the options above alone, this is the only time that we will advise you to have an arthroscopic surgery. – In this procedure, a camera is inserted through an incision to help in repairing or trimming away the damaged meniscus.

The surgery is an out-patient procedure that usually lasts for about an hour. However, full recovery will take some time and you will need to go through physical therapy exercises within the next few days following the operation.

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