The knee joint has two crescent shaped wedges of fibrocartilage called the meniscus that sit between the tibia (shin bone) and femur (thigh bone). They are considered the shock absorbers of the knee that also provide stability and lubrication of the knee joint. The meniscus plays an important role in maintaining knee health by reducing the impact load on the articular cartilage at the ends of the bones.
The meniscus is often injured with a step and pivot mechanism which can occur during contact sports or activity that requires quick side to side movements. The medial meniscus is most commonly injured as it is more firmly attached to the joint capsule and less mobile than the lateral meniscus. This makes it more likely to be pinched or torn with rotational movements. Over time, the meniscus loses it cushion and elasticity, becomes more fibrous, and can begin to wear down. The meniscus can fray and become more of a degenerative tear with overuse.
Symptoms of a meniscus tear can include pain along the joint line, swelling, buckling, locking, or catching. Difficulty and pain with lateral movements or plant and twist movements are often found as well. A physical examination by an orthopedic provider can determine if the meniscus has been injured. MRIs are used to confirm diagnosis as the meniscus can be well visualized.
Meniscus tears can be treated conservatively with rest, ice, elevation, compression, or cortisone injections. They can also be treated surgically depending on the type of tear. More degenerative type tears are usually treated conservatively first. An acute tear from a specific injury often needs surgical management. The meniscus does not have a great blood supply, so it does not do a good job of healing itself. Tears in the outer rim of the meniscus where the blood supply is more plentiful can often be repaired with suture anchors. A repaired meniscus surgery can mean a longer recovery. However, the goal is to try and preserve as much meniscus tissue as possible for the future to maintain joint health and help slow the wear down of articular cartilage. Meniscus tears that occur along the inner rim typically need partial removal of the torn meniscus tissue to reduce pain and symptoms. Meniscus surgeries can usually be done arthroscopically depending on the severity of the tear. Contact SOS today if you have concerns about a meniscus tear.