One very common knee injury is the meniscus tear. This can be a very debilitating and painful injury that affects knee cartilage. In this article, we discuss meniscus tears, how to avoid them and how to treat them. Read on to learn more.
What Is the Meniscus & How Does It Get Torn?
The meniscus is made up of cartilage. Its purpose is to stabilize your knee joint and cushion the joint to protect the bones from everyday wear and tear. Unfortunately, the meniscus is very subject to injury caused by twisting. If you twist your knee, you're very likely to tear your meniscus. When this happens, a piece of the torn cartilage can break free and get caught inside the knee joint. This will cause the knee to lock up.
Who Gets Meniscus Tears?
People who participate in rugged sports, such as football, are subject to meniscus tears. Furthermore, sports that require a lot of jumping and direction changes will cause meniscus tears. Examples include soccer and volleyball.
When a player suddenly changes direction while moving at a fast clip, it's easy to twist the knee. Very often, meniscus tears happen simultaneously with other types of knee injuries.
Because cartilage tends to weaken and become worn over time, older athletes are more subject to meniscus tears. In fact, nearly half of people over the age of sixty-five have meniscus tears.
What Are the Symptoms of a Meniscus Tear?
If you've torn your meniscus, you can expect to experience these symptoms:
- 1Popping at the time of the injury
- 2Pain at the time of the injury and after
- 3Immediate and ongoing swelling
- 4Difficulty flexing the knee
- 5Difficulty flexing the knee
- 6Frequent locking up or sticking of the knee joint
How Can I Be Sure I Have a Meniscus Tear?
Any knee injury should be seen by your doctor. The doctor will examine you thoroughly and ask you about the details of your injury. He or she may call for x-rays to make sure that you haven't broken your knee. Other tests may include magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). This test gives the doctor a clear view of the condition of your knee cartilage.
What Can You Do about Meniscus Tears?
There are a number of different treatments for meniscal tears. Several factors determine which treatment will be right in any given case. These include:
If you are young and healthy and have no other injuries, and the meniscus tear is in the outer portion (a.k.a.: the red zone) the injury may be able to heal on its own with simple rest, ice, compression and elevation (RICE) protocol.
If the injury is located in the inner two thirds of the meniscus (a.k.a.: the white zone) treatment may need to be more aggressive. The reason for this is that the red zone has very good blood supply, but the white zone does not.
Meniscus tears in the white zone may respond to RICE protocol, but in some cases, surgery is necessary. In any event, try RICE for two or three days. If you do not experience relief, or if your symptoms get worse, be sure to see your doctor.
It's important to note that while doing RICE protocol you should also take an over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) to help reduce the swelling and the pain.
Keep Your Knees Strong
After a meniscus tear (or before one) you should focus on performing strengthening and stretching exercises to keep your knees strong and flexible. No impact exercise, such as swimming can be helpful. Cycling and squats also help keep the knees strong and flexible.
Return to Sports Gradually
After a meniscus tear, you should avoid high-impact exercises and contact sports. Dial down your workout to give your knees a chance for full recovery.
When Is Surgery Necessary?
If you have a very large meniscus tear and/or you're having trouble with your knee locking up, you may need surgery. Repairing a meniscus tear injury is a pretty simple procedure that is usually done on an outpatient basis.
After the procedure, you'll probably need to wear a brace to stabilize your knee and protect it until healing is complete. Your doctor may refer you for physical therapy and/or give you specific exercises and instructions to follow it home.
Most of the time, meniscus tear surgery is successful and produces good results. If you've had an especially large injury, you may be predisposed to developing arthritis in the knee later in life.
How Long Does It Take to Recover from a Meniscus Tear?
Depending on the factors we've discussed, it can take between a month and six weeks for your meniscus tear to heal completely. Of course this may vary, depending upon your own constitution and recuperative powers.
One of the most important factors in speedy recovery is time. Don’t rush. Be sure to follow all of your doctor's instructions, and take it easy as you recover. Substitute non-impact exercise for high-impact exercise. Be sure to rest your knee adequately and continue to use the RICE protocol whenever you wish to relieve knee pain.
You'll know that your knee is fully recovered when:
If you rush back to your old and challenging form of exercise, you run a great risk of reinjuring your knee. Remember to move forward slowly and steadily and take great care.
How Can I Keep from Getting a Meniscus Tear?
One of the best ways to avoid a meniscus tear is to stay in good overall health. Exercise regularly, paying close attention to the muscles of your hips and thighs and those surrounding your knees.
Mix up your workouts to include both impact and no impact forms of exercise.
Never overdo. Build up your strength and stamina gradually when you want to increase your workout.
Eat well, sleep well and give yourself rest breaks throughout your daily activities and your workout. If your muscles are fatigued, they will be far more subject to injury.
Be sure that you are using the right kind of equipment for the sport or activity you perform. Always wear the right shoes, in good condition. Wear knee supports and padding as needed to protect your knees.