There are a number of injuries that can cause extreme pain in the knee, and one of those injuries is a meniscus tear. This happens when the cartilage is torn, usually due to a twisting movement in the knee while it has weight on it. There are two types of meniscus tears, partial and total, and both are common conditions in athletes who are doing a lot of running, such as soccer players.
The meniscus is a very small piece of cartilage, one so small that it is hard to believe that tearing it can cause so much pain. The meniscus cartilage is small and c-shaped, and there are three that protect and cushion the knee joint: one between the thigh bone and shin bone (femur and tibia), one on the outside of the knee (known as the lateral meniscus), and the other on the inside of the knee (the medial meniscus).
What is the Cause?
There are two main causes of meniscus tears, injuries and degenerative conditions. Most of the time, these injuries occur when the knee is bent and then twists, which tends to occur often during sports. Many times, a meniscus tear is just a part of a larger injury, such as a ligament injury.
What are the Symptoms?
Of course, the most common symptom of both partial and total meniscus tears is pain, especially when the leg is extended (held out straight). Depending on how badly the meniscus is torn, the pain can range from mild to severe. The pain can be extreme when pieces of the meniscus get caught between the thigh bone and shin bone. For both partial and total tears, there will be swelling, and patients may either hear popping sounds in their knee, or their knee may even feel weak. To properly diagnose a meniscus tear, a physician will perform a complete examination, and in some cases, an MRI may be performed.
What is the Treatment?
The type of treatment for meniscus tears depends on the severity of the injury. If the tear is partial, and there is not a lot of pain with the injury, the patient may only require physiotherapy to get the knee back into shape again and eliminate the pain. Another thing that will be required is to wear a meniscus tear knee brace, of which there are many different styles to choose from.
If the tear is total and causes extreme pain and limited range of movement, the patient may need to undergo surgery to repair the torn cartilage. The surgery performed is known as arthroscopic surgery. This involves the insertion of a small camera through an incision no larger than a centimeter in length. Once the tear is located, a second small incision is made for surgical instruments, and the surgeon then repairs the damage to the meniscus cartilage, either by removing the torn part of the cartilage or by joining the tear with tacks or sutures.
Some patients ask, "What is the benefit of removing the meniscus? Isn't it an important structure in my knee?" Clearly, the meniscus does play an important role in the human knee, but once torn and unable to be repaired, many of the beneficial effects of that structure are lost. Also, the torn meniscus can damage the articular cartilage of the knee leading to early arthritis. If a tear is causing pain and impaired function, removal of that tear is the treatment of choice.
Following surgery, there will be a rehabilitation period, which will require physical therapy. If the torn area is removed, the rehabilitation time is much less than if the area is repaired. During rehabilitation, physical activities are usually extremely restricted to allow for complete healing of the knee. Patients are usually required to wear a meniscus knee brace and use crutches for walking. Elevation, icing, and anti-inflammatory medication will help decrease pain and swelling. The knee should be kept dry when showering for the first 3 days by placing a bag over the leg. After this, simply change the band-aids after bathing. Patients usually begin light exercise in 1 week. Over time, more and more movement is allowed, until the patient is right back to normal. Once healed, the patient should be able to do everything he or she could before the injury occurred, though your surgeon may place additional restrictions on your activities to protect the healing meniscus for 3-6 months after surgery.
Preventing Meniscus Injury
You can decrease the chances of injuring your meniscus by strengthening your knee joint and the muscles around it. Bracing has also been found to help prevent injuries in the knee. The DonJoy Deluxe Hinged is the best brace for preventing meniscus injuries. It can be worn daily and during activity.