What is a Meniscus Tear?
A meniscus tear is a common knee injury that occurs in the rubbery knee cartilage that cushions the shinbone from the thighbone.
What are the Causes and Symptoms of a Meniscus Tear?
In young patients, meniscus tears are usually a result of significant twisting in many cases, these injuries occur when the foot is planted and the knee is forcibly shifted to one side. This can occur during a football tackle, ski injury, motorbike accident or any other trauma to the knee.
In older patients, meniscus tears can occur from chronic repetitive use where the meniscus overtime begins to deteriorate. For example, consider your knee to be a fan belt on a car. Eventually, after enough wear and tear, the fan belt will begin to fray and develop small tears. Then, during normal, innocent activities such as kneeling, gardening, dancing or even hiking, the weakened meniscus may completely tear causing swelling and pain within just a few hours of the injury.
What Are the Symptoms of a Meniscus Tear?
There are two primary symptoms of a meniscus tear:
- Pain – The main symptom of a meniscus tear is pain, usually on either side of the knee and, in some cases, the back of the knee. Prolonged sitting or driving will cause pain, aching and stiffness to be more noticeable for some patients. Rest can alleviate symptoms, but the pain usually returns with even minor activity.
- Swelling– Swelling is associated with meniscus tears in those who have not experienced the injury before. However, adults with chronic meniscus tears may have little or no swelling.
Another symptom of a meniscus tear is experiencing popping, clicking and locking of the knee. This typically indicates that the meniscus tear is unstable.
Can a Meniscus Tear Be Treated Without Surgery?
Some acute or small meniscus tears can be monitored without surgery if the meniscus remains stable meaning, the patient is not experiencing symptoms such as locking, significant swelling and if the pain is tolerable and the tear has the opportunity to heal.
Northern Arizona Orhopaedics offers a new treatment option called (PRP) Platelet Rich Plasma injections which is an in-office procedure which promotes the body to heal on its own. We have seen improvements in pain with these biologic injections for both arthritis patients and stable degenerative meniscus injuries. To learn more about Platelet Rich Plasma, visit PRP – A Natural Way to Heal.
What are the Surgical Options for a Meniscus Tear?
Unstable meniscus tears, if left untreated, can cause further damage to the knee as well as pain so surgical treatment is recommended. Surgical treatment options of the meniscus include either, a Meniscectomy or a Meniscal Repair Surgery.
- Meniscectomy – This surgery removes the only the torn portion of the meniscus. This is similar to trimming a partially torn fingernail so that it no longer catches during activity. The primary goal is always to preserve as much healthy meniscus tissue as possible to help protect the knee from arthritis. Recovery from meniscectomy can be fairly quick and some athletes can return to play within 3 weeks of their surgery under their surgeon’s guidance.
- Arthroscopic Meniscal Repair Surgery – This surgery repairs tears in the vascular area of the meniscus and can be performed for some patterns of tears. An arthroscopic repair of the meniscus involves stimulating the tear to promote healing and stabilizing the meniscus with suture repair to allow healing. Repairs of the Meniscus have a much longer recovery period to prevent overuse which can slow the healing of tissue. Athletes should expect to return to play after a 5 to 6-month recovery. However, always seek the recommendations from their surgeon before returning to normal sports activity.