The meniscus is a thin, fibrous cartilage that exists within your knee to help cushion it from injury and assist with stability. As you get older, the meniscus can wear and break down, making tears a more common occurrence. If you think you’ve torn your meniscus, see a physician, but it’s also good to know what potentially caused the tear and familiarize yourself with recovery options.
Chances Are, You’ll Know if You’ve Torn Your Meniscus
The simple answer here is “you will experience knee pain,” but knee pain can describe many injuries that don’t have anything to do with your meniscus. First, consider how you got your injury. While meniscus tears can happen in a variety of ways, some of the injuries physicians see are sports related. They happen most frequently when the knee is bent and then twists, similar to the movement that occurs when someone is tackled in football, but these types of injuries can also occur around the house. If you experienced an injury when your knee was bent and then twisted and felt a sharp, stabbing sensation on the inside or outside of your knee, it could be a meniscus tear. The knee will often feel stiff and the pain can last over several days or even weeks. Your knee may also swell and feel unstable. The best way to determine whether or not you’ve got a torn meniscus is to see your doctor, who will likely have an MRI done to help diagnose your injury. In patients with arthritis, the meniscus can be torn but may not be the cause of knee pain. Rather, the degenerative changes from arthritis are the pain generators.
Meniscus Tears Don’t Heal
Because the meniscus is cartilage and has no direct blood supply, it therefore can’t heal on its own; however, in stable, degenerative tears, surgery is often not needed. In unstable, traumatic tears, surgery may help the meniscus heal. The healing potential depends on the location of the tear, quality of the meniscus and stability of the repair.
Regardless of how severe you think the injury might be, you need to see a doctor who can properly diagnose you.
What Does Surgery for a Meniscus Tear Entail?
First, remember that not all meniscus tears require surgery. Your doctor will likely take into consideration the location and severity of the injury as well as your activity level and the amount of discomfort you are experiencing. After evaluation, if you and your doctor feel surgery is the best route, you’ll likely undergo arthroscopic surgery to repair or remove the torn meniscus. While not as common, meniscal replacement surgery is also an option. For any of these procedures, your surgeon will go into your knee through very small incisions with a camera-like device and small instruments to repair or remove the torn meniscus. These procedures are typically outpatient procedures and done under general anesthesia. Recovery times vary from patient to patient but generally require at least a week off to give the knee time to recovery.
The bottom line is if you’re experiencing knee pain, schedule an appointment with your physician. After a diagnosis, you’ll have a much clearer vision of what steps you need to take to be on the road to recovery.