The meniscus is a small, “c” shaped piece of cartilage that acts as a cushion for the knee joint. They sit between the shin bone (tibia) and the thigh bone (femur), with one being on the outside and one being on the inside of the knee.
What Is a Meniscus Tear?
A meniscus tear usually occurs during movements that forcefully rotate the knee while the knee is bearing weight, which results in the piece of cartilage being torn. If the foot is firmly planted and an athlete quickly twists or rotates the upper leg, a partial or total tear of the meniscus could occur. This is common in sports such as soccer or football.
Meniscus Tear Symptoms
When a meniscus is injured or torn, mild to severe pain (especially when the knee is straightened) is caused depending on how big the tear is. When a torn meniscus fragment catches between the tibia and femur, severe pain is common. Swelling is also common at the time of injury, but may appear hours later as the joint tissue becomes inflamed. An audible click or pop is frequently heard when the meniscus is injured. The knee may also lock, or feel weak. Smaller meniscus tears may heal over time with no surgery required, although some meniscus injuries benefit from surgical repair.
Diagnosis and Treatment of Meniscus Tears
When a meniscus tear is diagnosed, the physician takes a complete history and performs a physical exam of the patient. The extent of the injury is often possible to determine by manipulating the knee in different ways. During this, if the knee pops, clicks, or has pain, this may suggest a meniscus tear.
Treating meniscus tears depends on the extent and location of the tear. Smaller tears, when the pain and other symptoms resolve quickly, may only need muscle strengthening exercises to fully recover. Patients with smaller tears are usually referred to physical therapy.
Larger meniscus tears that cause problems with the knee functioning may need surgery to fully repair it. Usually these procedures involve a small camera being inserted into the joint through a small incision. Surgical instruments are then inserted into a smaller, second incision. The surgeon uses the camera to see the entire joint and then repairs and removes torn pieces of meniscus. The goal of the surgery is to save as much of the original, normal cartilage as possible.