The menisci are two wedge-shaped pieces of cartilage that rest between the thighbone and shin bone. Their rubbery and tough consistency enables them to function as shock absorbers for the knees.
Meniscal tears are one of the most common knee injuries. Athletes, particularly those who play contact sports, are at the greatest risk. If the meniscus does not heal on its own, surgery may be necessary.
Causes and symptoms
Although meniscal tears can happen to anyone, two populations have a higher than average risk of tearing the meniscus:
- In athletes, tears can occur when a player squats and twists the knee. They also can occur as a result of rough contact.
- Older adults are more likely to have weakened and worn cartilage. Even a simple but awkward movement can lead to a tear.
When the meniscus tears, you may hear or feel a popping sound. Other symptoms include:
- Pain in the knee
- Locking of the knee
- Limited range of motion
If the meniscal tear is untreated, cartilage may break off and move into the joint, causing the knee to lock.
Diagnosis and treatment
The most common test for a meniscal tear is the McMurray test. During this test, your doctor will bend your knee, straighten and rotate it. If there is a tear, your knee will make a clicking sound.
Your doctor may also order imaging tests, such as X-rays or MRI, to get a better look.
Most meniscal tears are helped by the RICE protocol:
- Rest. Rest your knee and avoid putting weight on your leg.
- Ice. Ice your knee several times a day for 20 minutes at a time.
- Compression. Wear a compression bandage to help reduce swelling.
- Elevation. Keep your knee elevated while you rest to reduce swelling.
Your doctor may recommend arthroscopic surgery if your symptoms don't improve with the RICE protocol.
During arthroscopic surgery, a small incision is made in your knee. A miniature camera is inserted to give your surgeon a clear view of the inside of your knee. Once the problem is identified, your surgeon will use small surgical instruments to repair the meniscus.
Your doctor may recommend physical therapy as part of your recovery after surgery.
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