The menisci are two c-shaped white structures that cushion and balance a joint. Though they can be found in several places in the body, injuries to the menisci often occur in the knee.
Meniscus tears are common sports injuries. They occur when there is a sudden twisting or turning while the foot is planted on the ground and the knee is bent. They may also occur when there is heavy lifting. As you age, the meniscus wears down, making it more susceptible to tears.
Meniscus tears are classified according to size, shape, and type, of which there are two main types: acute or traumatic and degenerative.
Acute or traumatic meniscus tears are tears that result from an injury. Degenerative tears result from normal wear and tear, leaving the menisci with frayed edges. Acute tears come in many shapes and sizes. The type of tear is determined during diagnosis.
Symptoms depend on the type of meniscus tear. There are three types of symptoms depending on the severity of the damage.
1)Minor Tears. There is slight pain and swelling, which go away in 2 to 3 weeks.
2)Moderate Tears. There is pain at the side of the knee and in the center. Swelling occurs and worsens over 2 to 3 days. The knee may feel stiff, limiting how much you can bend it. There may also be a sharp pain when twisting or squatting. These symptoms usually go away in a week or two, but they return when you twist or overuse your knee. Left untreated, the pain may persist over the years.
3)Serious Tears. Pieces of the meniscus may detach and fall into the joint cavity, making the knee move and jerk unnaturally. Patients may not be able to straighten their knee at all, which may swell and stiffen right after the injury or within 2 to 3 days.
For older people, the cause of the tear may be unknown. This is natural since the meniscus is not as flexible and strong as it once was. Often in these cases, pain and swelling are the only symptoms of a tear, so please consult your doctor right away when you notice these.
A physical exam is usually all it takes to diagnose a meniscus tear. X-rays may also be taken. Further testing may include an MRI or an arthroscopy, in which a small camera is passed through an incision made on the inside of the knee, allowing the doctor to see the extent of the damage.
Treatment depends on the severity of the tear. For mild and minor injuries, your doctor may prescribe the following, so you can treat meniscus injury at home:
– Ice to lessen the swelling
– Bandages for the knee
– Keeping the knee propped up on pillows
For more serious injuries, surgery is often required. This comes in two types: repair and removal. Sometimes, it is no longer possible to repair the damage to the meniscus, so the damaged parts of the meniscus must be removed to ease the patient’s pain and limit the damage the broken meniscus may do to the other parts of the joint.
Recovery from a meniscus tear lasts 1 to 3 months. Those who had a removal surgery need to be in crutches for 4 to 7 days. Swelling may last up to 6 weeks, and the patient will be back to normal after 4 to 6 weeks. Those who had a repair surgery will need to be in crutches for 4 to 6 weeks. This is to give the meniscus a chance to heal itself without being disturbed. Afterwards, the patient may need therapy to regain strength in the leg and knee.
Remember the best cure is prevention. Proper care and regular exercise of the knee will go a long way in keeping your knee strong and flexible.