What is the meniscus?

The meniscus is a C-shaped piece of cartilage—firm, fibrous tissue—found in the knee joint between the femur (thigh bone) and the tibia (shinbone). There are two sets of menisci, one in each knee.

The meniscus acts as a shock absorber for the knee joint and also provides stability. What makes this tissue unique is that blood is only supplied to the outer portion. As a result of this poor circulation, however, many meniscus tears are unable to heal on their own.

What causes the meniscus to tear?

A torn meniscus typically occurs in one of two ways: injury or as the result of degeneration.

An injury usually occurs when patients forcefully twist or rotate the knee while bearing weight on the joint. The risk of this injury is exceptionally high for athletes who participate in contact sports—such as football—as well as sports that involve pivoting, like basketball or tennis.

The tear can also be the result of deep squatting, kneeling or lifting something that’s too heavy. Degenerative changes in the menisci—more common in older adults—are the result of aging and require little to no trauma to create a tear.

What are the symptoms of a torn meniscus?

Symptoms of a torn meniscus can include:

  • A locking sensation when trying to move the knee
  • A popping feeling in the knee
  • An inability to fully straighten the knee
  • Pain, especially when trying to turn the knee
  • Stiffness and swelling

How is a torn meniscus treated?

Ice and Rest

If the tear is the result of an injury, immediate treatments are more conservative. It typically includes rest and intermittent ice application for about 15 minutes at a time every four to six hours for the first couple of days to reduce pain and swelling. Over-the-counter pain medication may also be recommended.

If the tear is associated with arthritis, it will generally resolve itself over time when the arthritis is treated and will usually not require surgery.

Physical Therapy

Physical therapy may be recommended to strengthen the muscles surrounding the knee and in the legs. Doing so will help support and stabilize the joint.

Surgery

Surgery may be recommended for patients whose knee still locks or remains painful despite therapy. Surgery can be performed to repair the tear, but in cases it can’t be, the tear may simply be surgically trimmed. Both procedures may be performed arthroscopically, using a device with a camera, light and small tools that can be inserted into the knee.

Following surgery, rehabilitation will be necessary to strengthen and stabilize the knee.

Come to the Knee Specialists

At IGEA, our orthopaedic surgeon specializes in treating injuries, including meniscal tears, using advanced treatment options. These and other specialties are part of our practice’s full continuum of care for patients living with brain, spine, neuroendovascular and orthopaedic conditions.

For more information about the superior care and services we provide or to schedule an appointment with one of our experts, contact us today.