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“Pop” Goes the Meniscus. When the Knee’s Shock Absorber Fails
Medically reviewed by Dr. Pat Denton, Pee Dee Orthopaedic Associates
Ever try to hold up 150 or so pounds and keep it stable ALL DAY? That’s what your knees do. And small C-shaped wedges between the cartilage and bones in your knee act as stabilizers and shock absorbers. Each of these wedges is called a “meniscus.” Given their work assignment, it’s not hard to understand that a meniscus tear is one of the most common knee injuries.
HOW IT HAPPENS
“In younger people, the injury often occurs during sports with a quick stop, over-flexing or twisting of the knee,” says Dr. Pat Denton of Pee Dee Orthopaedic Associates. “It’s not unusual for a meniscus injury to be associated with other damage, such as a tear of the Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL).
In older people, the cartilage weakens or thins from wear. Simply getting out of a chair can be enough to cause a meniscus tear.
MENISCUS TEAR SYMPTOMS
Aside from the “pop” at the time injury and pain – which often gets worse the day AFTER the injury – a person might have the following:
- A feeling of locking or “catch” in the knee joint.
- Swelling in the knee.
- Difficulty squatting.
AT HOME TRY “RICE”
When you first notice a problem try:
R-esting. Take the weight off your leg.
I-ce – several times a day. Don’t apply ice directly to the skin
C-ompression with an elastic bandage.
E-levating your leg so that it’s higher than your heart.
You might also try some aspirin or ibuprofen.
FINDING THE PROBLEM
If you think you have a torn meniscus, don’t wait to see a doctor. Prompt diagnosis and treatment can prevent a degenerative disease in the knee later on.
An Orthopedic Specialist will conduct a few office tests that involve flexing and extending the knee. They may also take an X-ray to see if osteoarthritis exists in the knee. And a Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) may be conducted to look at the soft tissues.
FIXING THE TEAR
Minor Tears. Physical Therapy may be used to rebuild strength if there’s no loss of joint function, if the swelling or pain is minimal, and if the patient is willing to reduce their activities – temporarily or permanently.
If the meniscus condition does not improve, surgery may be needed. Orthopedic Specialists can discuss several options with patients:
- Meniscectomy involves surgically trimming the torn portion of the meniscus.
- Repair can be undertaken by stitching the torn meniscus back together.
- Transplantation uses donor meniscus to replace the damaged tissue.
Whenever possible, the surgery is performed using Arthroscopy with small incisions and instruments that enable the surgeon to work while watching a TV monitor.
When your knee goes “pop”, don’t be a weasel. See an Orthopedic Specialist.
Sources include: McLeod Health, National Institutes of Health, American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, Australian Family Physician, Ghent University Hospital, Runners World (UK), Journal of Bone & Joint Surgery