Meniscus problems: Causes, symptoms, and treatment
What is the meniscus?
The meniscus, located in the knee, is made up of two wedge-shaped pieces of cartilage which act as a cushion between the femur and the tibia.
As with most cartilage, it can be difficult for a deep meniscus tear to heal because the blood supply is only to the outer third.
What causes meniscus damage?
Most common in athletes, meniscus damage usually results from direct injury which occurs regularly in contact sports (from tackling, for example), and also can happen with an awkward twist of the knee.
Older people are also at risk of meniscus tears, as the tissue can wear down with age to the point that a simple everyday movement can cause a tear.
What are the symptoms of a torn meniscus?
Some people feel a pop when the injury occurs, but often the pain isn’t severe initially, and the patient can still walk. Over the days following the injury there may be stiffness, swelling, loss of movement, instability, and tenderness in the affected joint.
How are meniscus problems diagnosed?
One of the main ways a doctor can diagnose a torn meniscus is through a test where they bend, straighten, and rotate the knee. A clicking sound which comes with the movement is indicative of the injury. Along with the physical examination, imaging tests such as x rays and MRI may be able to reveal the damage.
What treatment options are available for meniscus problems?
Anti-inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen and aspirin can be used for the pain.
If the tear occurs in the outer third of the meniscus where there is a rich blood supply, it’s possible it may heal on its own with rest, icing, use of a compression bandage, and keeping the leg up.
If it doesn’t, or the injury is in the inner two-thirds, arthroscopic surgery may be necessary. This can be a partial meniscectomy, where the damaged tissue is trimmed away, or a meniscal repair, where the tear is sutured back together.
How long does recovery take?
Recovery times depend on the treatment path chosen. A meniscal repair usually requires a longer recover period than a partial meniscectomy, but with proper treatment, patients usually can return to their pre-injury activities.