The meniscus is a C-shaped piece of cartilage located in the knee, that acts as a shock absorber between the shinbone and the thighbone. There are two minisci within each knee. The meniscus on the inside part of the knee is known as the medial meniscus and the meniscus located on the outside of the knee is referred to as the lateral meniscus. A meniscus tear may occur during an activity in which the knee is forcibly twisted or rotated. Common injuries in athletes, meniscus tears may also occur in older adults whose cartilage has worn away as a result of of wear and tear, or in anyone who suffers a traumatic injury.
Symptoms of a Meniscus Tear
Meniscus tears are usually defined by a distinctive popping or clicking sensation when the injury occurs. Most people are able to walk or play a sport immediately after the injury, but the knee typically becomes swollen and stiff within a few days. The most common symptoms of meniscus tears include: persistent pain whenever the knee is moved or twisted, stiffness, swelling, and/or inability to fully straighten the knee
Diagnosis of a Meniscus Tear
A meniscus tear is typically diagnosed after a complete evaluation of the patient's symptoms is conducted and a medical history obtained. The knee will be examined for tenderness along the joint line, which usually signifies the presence of a meniscus tear.
Several diagnostic tests will generally follow to confirm the tear. One commonly used evaluation tool is the McMurray test, in which the knee is bent, straightened and moved around in a circular fashion by the doctor. The circular motion places added tension on the meniscus and causes an audible clicking sound, enabling the doctor to diagnose the tear. Imaging tests, such as X-rays or an MRI or CT scan, may also be needed.
Treatment for a Meniscus Tear
If left untreated, a meniscus tear may result in a portion of the cartilage becoming loose and moving into the joint, causing the knee to slip out of place. Treatment usually depends on the severity of the tear and its exact location. Initial treatment methods for meniscus tears are generally conservative, such as placing ice on the knee, taking anti-inflammatory medications and elevating the knee to reduce swelling. Physical therapy may also be effective at strengthening the muscles that support the knee joint.
If symptoms continue despite these conservative measures, surgery may be necessary. Minimally invasive knee arthroscopy is one of the most commonly performed procedures to treat the condition. Small surgical instruments are used to perform either a meniscus repair or a meniscectomy, during which damaged meniscal tissue is trimmed away. Recovery from meniscus repair surgery usually requires several months of immobilization of the joint, the use of crutches, and a program of physical therapy in order for the patient to regain full mobility.