Is a sore knee making it difficult to enjoy a walk in your favorite park? You ice it, elevate it, compress it, no matter what you do, the pain still doesn’t go away. You visit your doctor and they tell you that you have torn your meniscus. You are confused with the medical jargon, how are you supposed to treat your pain when you don’t fully understand the problem and source of the pain?
What is a meniscus tear?
The meniscus is a rubbery C-shaped disc, consisting of a tissue-like cartilage. The meniscus acts as a shock absorber between your femur (the large bone on of the upper thigh) and the tibia (the shin bone). The lateral meniscus (on the exterior of the knee) and the medial meniscus (on the interior of the knee) are both attached to the tibia. The meniscus acts as a shock absorber as we walk, run, and jump. Your meniscus helps to absorb these forces so that the bones surfaces are protected.
Specific movements or compromised positions of the knee will stress either the lateral or the medial meniscus. If these movements are taken to the extreme range with force, the meniscus can be torn or irritated. When your meniscus is torn or damaged, you lose the cushioning system. Grinding and wearing will occur between the femur and the tibia bones. Over time, arthritis of the knee joint will develop as a result of the stressed bones.
A torn or damaged meniscus is one of the most common knee injuries. A meniscus tear results from an acute injury or as a result of age-related degeneration. During an acute injury, the meniscus tear is caused by a forceful turning or twisting while the knee is flexed and the foot is planted.
These injuries are common among athletes, especially if they are involved in contact sports such as wrestling, football or sports that involve a lot of running (i.e. soccer). For age-related degeneration, your meniscus gets worn out and the flexibility of the meniscus decreases as you get older. These factors can all add up to cause a meniscus injury during an otherwise normal movement.
- Sudden onset of pain, often associated with "giving way" in the joint
- Knee joint will often “lock-up” when the leg is almost straight
- Hearing a “popping” or “clicking” sound within the knee
- Chronic or intermittent swelling
- Difficulty bending or straightening the knee
Note: If there is bruising and swelling with severe generalized pain within minutes of the injury, this often indicates there is also a tear of a ligament within the knee joint.
Meniscal injuries may or may not require surgical repair. In either case, consult a Physiotherapist immediately. They will start by working to reduce the swelling, inflammation and pain in the knee. To speed the recovery, you can:
- Rest your knee. Avoid putting weight on your knee as much as possible. Use crutches if required.
- Ice your knee to reduce inflammation, pain and swelling. Apply ice pack
10 -15 minutes every 3 hours for 2 days or until the pain and swelling is gone.
- Compress your knee. Control the swelling by using a knee brace or elastic bandage around the injured knee.
- Elevate your knees when you're sitting or lying down.
- Take anti-inflammatory medications. Please consult your physician first.
- Practice stretching and strengthening exercises recommended to you by your physiotherapist.
- Avoid impact activities such as running and jumping.
- Do not twist the knee or forcefully try to extend it.
It is important to seek the advice and follow through on full rehabilitation with a physiotherapist to return your knee to it’s pre-injury level of function. Consult your physiotherapist to see whether a knee brace
or cold therapy
is right for you to alleviate your knee pains.
Meniscus injuries are hard to prevent as they usually occur as a result of an accident. However, there are some precautions to keep in mind to help minimize the risks of knee injuries:
- Keep your leg muscles strong by actively stretching to strengthen your muscles and help stabilize and protect your knee joints.
- Begin your exercise routine slowly and gradually increase your intensity over time.
- Wear protective gear and proper footwear when playing sports.
- Stretch before and after physical exercise.
Research shows the sooner you start reversing your pain or injury, the better your chances of feeling relief faster.