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OAS Health Blog

Meniscal tears in the knee: Injuries, symptoms and treatments.

August 15, 2014

Meniscal tears are the most common injury to the knee that requires surgery. The meniscus is a cartilage disc that is inside your knee. Each knee has two menisci, an inner or medial and an outer or lateral meniscus. The menisci functions as shock absorbers between the articular cartilage in the joints. Additionally the meniscus provides some assistance with the stability of the knee.

Meniscus tears can occur in patients of all ages. Younger active and athletic patients can suffer a meniscal tear due to a twisting trauma to the knee. This is common as a result of cutting turning sporting activities such as playing soccer, tennis and other sports. As patients age, the meniscal cartilage becomes less resilient from accumulated repetitive "micro-trauma." This can lead to some degree of degeneration of the meniscal cartilage. Accordingly, this early degenerative meniscus can become torn with simple rotational motions to the knee, such as a simple twist when turning to reach for something. This type of tear becomes more common when patients reach the age of 40 and is very common once patients have passed their 60's.

Most patients with meniscal tears report pain and feeling of tightness in the knee from swelling. Not all meniscal tears are painful. Meniscal tears that are not symptomatic and cause no pain and no limitation of activity do not require treatment. Those patients with symptoms of pain with or without swelling should have an evaluation by an orthopedist. If the examination is consistent with a meniscal tear, often an MRI will be ordered. An MRI will enable the orthopaedist to see the cartilage, any damage or tears present and the extent of the tear. Fortunately, many meniscal tears do not require surgery. Some tears have the capacity to heal and some will become asymptomatic with a resolution of the pain and return to all activities.

For those patients who do require surgery, surgery entails a minimally invasive arthroscopic procedure. Knee arthroscopy is one of the most common orthopaedic surgical procedures. Through small incisions a miniature camera can be inserted into the knee providing a clear view of the cartilage. Miniature surgical instruments can then be inserted to trim back the torn, painful portion of the meniscus or to sew and repair the meniscus to help it to heal. Often after the surgery you will use crutches for a few days and begin a course of physical therapy. In most cases you will be able to resume your normal activities after 3 or 4 weeks.

Meniscal tears are a very common knee injury. With appropriate diagnosis and treatment, most patients can return to their pre-injury level of activity. If you have an injury to your knee and you are having pain, swelling, or limitation of you activities call for an appointment so that we can evaluate your knee and begin the process to get you back to all of your normal activities.

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