What is a Meniscal Tear?
Meniscal tear is the most common knee injury. Any physical activity that causes a forcefully rotation or twist of the knee can lead to a meniscal tear.
Each knee has two menisci that work like cushions between the thighbone and shinbone, located each on the inner and outer edge of the knee. Menisci are C-shaped cartilage discs.
There are three types of meniscal tears:
Minor tear – is characterized by light pain and swelling of the affected knee. The signs and symptoms usually resolve in two or three weeks.
Moderate tear – is characterized by pain, swelling of the knee which tends to get worse in the first couple of days and knee stiffness even though walking is usually possible. The signs and symptoms usually resolve in two or three weeks, however they tend to get back when overusing the knee, twisting it or squatting. The pain may come and go for couple of years if not treated correctly.
Severe tear – is characterized by severe pain, swelling, stiffness, inability to walk and pieces of the torn meniscus can enter the joint space.
What Causes Meniscal Tear?
As mentioned, every physical activity that causes a forcefully rotation or twist of the knee can lead to a meniscal tear. Sometimes, even lifting heavy things, kneeling or deep squatting can lead to a meniscal tear.
Some people are at a greater risk of suffering from meniscal tears like athletes, especially those who participate in the following sports: football, basketball, tennis, etc.
The risk of suffering from meniscal tears is also greater as we get older, due to the wearing and tearing of the knees.
Signs and Symptoms of Meniscal Tear
The following signs and symptoms characterize meniscal tears:
- Swelling of the affected knee
- Pain in the knee, especially when rotating or twisting it
- A popping sensation
- Difficulty straightening the knee, etc.
A torn meniscus can lead to persistent knee pain, knee instability and even inability to move the knee and walk normally.
How is a Meniscal Tear Diagnosed?
In many cases meniscal tears can be diagnosed during physical examination of the injured knee. However, further diagnostic tests are necessary sometimes to confirm the diagnosis.
Imaging diagnostic tests include:
- X-ray of the knee – is necessary in order to rule out any other knee problem. Menisci are made of cartilage, so normally they won’t be visible in an X-ray.
- Ultrasound – is necessary to visualize the inside of the knee and to better examine it. Knee ultrasound can help your health care provider determine if there is any loose flap of cartilage that can interfere with the knee movement.
- MRI – provided better visualization of the inner knee structures. With the help of cross sectional images your health care provider can have a better visualization of the hard and soft tissues of the knee.
Arthroscopy – is a medical procedure which helps your health care provider visualize the inside of the knee onto a monitor. An arthroscope is inserted through a tiny incision near the knee, containing a camera and a light.
Meniscal Tear Treatment
Conservative treatment is recommended first and if, this fails surgery is the only treatment option.
After the injury, bed rest, ice packs and pain killers are recommended.
Physical therapy is also necessary in order to strengthen the knee muscles and regain knee stability.
If after conservative treatment, you still have knee pain, instability or a sensation of knee stiffness, surgery is recommended. With a surgical procedure torn menisci can sometimes be repaired, especially in young adults and children. If the torn menisci can’t be repaired, it is surgically trimmed.
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