Meniscus tears are a common injury that can result in pain and mobility problems for people from all walks of life. Although it is a common sports injury, people who work in physical and manual professions can also tear their meniscus. Whether you have been diagnosed with this injury or are researching potential causes for your injured knee, it is helpful to learn about the meniscus and the different factors that can cause meniscal tears.
Take a moment to read over the following information. The USA Spine Care & Orthopedics team is here to help you get answers to any questions you have. Please get in touch with a representative at any time.
What is the meniscus?
Similar in function to the spinal discs that cushion the vertebrae in the spinal column, the meniscus is a piece of rubbery cartilage that acts as a shock absorber in the knee joint. Each one of your knees has two c-shaped menisci, one on the inside and one on the outside. By transferring weight smoothly between the upper and lower knee joint, the meniscus plays a key role in stabilizing the knee during movement.
While menisci are designed to be durable and flexible, they still endure a tremendous amount of stress. Excessive force or repetitive movements can lead to the development of meniscal tears. The risk of developing a torn meniscus also increases with age due to natural changes that cause cartilage breakdown.
Can meniscal tears heal on their own?
Meniscal tears can heal on their own, but that is not always the case and there are a number of factors that determine this. In addition to the overall length and severity of the tear, the biggest indicator for whether a tear on the meniscus will heal is location. The outer portion, or roughly one third, of each meniscus is more likely to heal on its own due to receiving a higher degree of blood supply.
In contrast, the inner two-thirds of the menisci receive far less nutrient-rich blood and therefore have much more difficulty healing. These inner meniscal tears are much less likely to respond to conservative treatment and require surgical repair.
Can you walk around with a torn meniscus?
While it is possible to walk after a meniscal tear develops, it is not recommended at all. As with all knee injuries, continuing to walk or put any pressure on the meniscus after a tear develops can only lead to the injury worsening. Whether you have been positively diagnosed with a meniscal tear or just believe you have some kind of knee injury, rest is extremely critical to recovery.
How do you know if you have a torn meniscus in your knee?
Generally, meniscal tears are formally diagnosed by qualified physicians after a thorough examination and the taking of diagnostic imagery. However, there are some common indicators of a torn meniscus that people experience, particularly after sudden trauma to the knee joint.
For example, many athletes report experiencing a sudden pop after an awkward movement change or contact. After the initial injury, the knee joint can become stiff and visibly swollen. Other common symptoms of meniscal tears include:
- Limited range of motion
- Popping and grinding sensations
- Feeling of the knee locking or giving way
What are the most frequent causes of a torn meniscus?
To give you a better understanding if your injured knee is related to a meniscal tear, it can help to learn more about the most common causes. These include:
- Sports-related injury — Meniscal tears are very common among athletes, especially in sports that require jumping like basketball, or have full contact such as football. However, the meniscus can tear due to any type of trauma or sudden pivoting, from tennis to track and field.
- Work-related injury — A torn meniscus can occur in any profession, but the highest risk is in highly physical work, including mail carriers, warehouse workers, construction workers and factory workers.
- Repetitive motion injury — While meniscus tears are most commonly associated with sudden trauma, they can also develop as a result of repetitive stress on the knee joint. Activities such as cycling, jogging, or professions such as plumbing that require frequent knee bending have the potential for meniscal tears, particularly as people get older.
- Natural degeneration — The natural aging process is one of the most significant contributors to meniscal tears. This is because as we get older, our soft tissue dries out and loses elasticity, especially the cartilage. While degeneration is not a direct cause of a torn meniscus, it substantially increases the risk of this injury.
How do you fix a meniscus tear?
A torn meniscus can either be “fixed” by healing naturally or through surgical repair. Upon diagnosis, if a doctor believes the injured knee has a chance to heal, he or she will prescribe a course of rest, activity modification to relieve stress on the knee joint and conservative treatments.
Patients commonly alternate ice and heat to reduce swelling and improve blood flow, while also elevating the knee. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can help reduce pain and inflammation and may be taken as directed by a doctor.
Physical therapy can improve strength, stability and function in the knee joint as the meniscus heals, or after a surgical procedure. A physical therapist can also help address biomechanical issues that may have contributed to the injury.
If the tear does not respond to conservative treatment, or if it is too severe to heal on its own, a surgical procedure can help to repair the meniscal tear and/or remove damaged tissue that is inhibiting knee function.
Thanks to advances in surgical technology and technique, these procedures can often be performed on an outpatient basis, helping patients avoid the risks and difficulties of hospital-based procedures.
Reach out to USA Spine Care & Orthopedics today
To learn how our talented multidisciplinary team can help patients dealing with meniscal tears, contact us today. From physical therapy to orthopedic surgery, we can help you develop the treatment plan that gets you back to the active lifestyle you’ve been missing.
Meniscus and Meniscal Tears Quick Answers
What is the meniscus?
The meniscus is a piece of C-shaped cartilage that helps cushion the knee. There are two in each knee, for a total of four. This piece of soft tissue often becomes torn, especially in athletes, due to quick movements and sudden trauma.
Can a torn meniscus heal by itself?
A meniscal tear can heal on its own, but location is important. Tears on the outside are more likely to heal due to increased circulation, while tears on the inside are more likely to need surgery.
How long does it take a meniscal tear to heal?
As a frequent overuse injury, recovery generally takes about six to eight weeks to heal with the help of rest and basic conservative treatment. The time varies for each patient depending on the location and severity of the tear.
What types of conservative treatments can help with a meniscal tear?
In addition to the RICE method of rest, ice, compression and elevation, doctors may recommend bracing, over-the-counter medication and physical therapy to improve symptoms and keep the knee stable.
How do you fix the meniscus if surgery is required?
Surgeons can repair some meniscal tears with arthroscopic procedures, which involves the use of a small scope called an arthroscope. Depending on the nature and severity of the tear, the surgeon may be able to perform a repair or a partial or total meniscectomy. A meniscectomy involves removing all or part of the damaged meniscus.