One of the most common knee injuries, a torn meniscus is caused by the tearing of the c-shaped cartilage in your knees (the menisci) that act like a cushion between your shinbone and thighbone.
A meniscus tear can happen during any activity that causes your knee to forcefully twist or rotate and is typically made worse by putting your weight on it. A tear can also be associated with arthritis. The result is pain, swelling, stiffness, and limited knee movement.
A torn meniscus is typically diagnosed by a physical exam and, in some cases, an MRI. Depending upon the severity and location of the tear, your doctor may recommend conservative or more advanced treatment.
In less severe cases, a torn meniscus can heal on its own with a few minor forms of treatment. Even if the tear is severe, initial treatment likely will be conservative, and may include doing any or all of the following:
- Rest your knee by avoiding activities that cause your knee to twist, rotate, or pivot. You may want to walk with crutches to take pressure off your knee as it heals.
- Ice reduces pain and swelling. While your knee is elevated, apply an ice pack for 15 minutes at a time, every four to six hours.
- Taking over-the-counter pain relievers can help ease knee pain.
- Attending physical therapy may be recommended to help strengthen the muscles around your knee and stabilize the knee joint.
- You may require arthritis treatment if the tear is a result of arthritis of the knee.
After initial treatment, your doctor will reevaluate your knee pain and movement. If the pain persists or if your knee continues to lock, surgery may be recommended.
A torn meniscus can sometimes be surgically repaired, especially in younger patients. If the tear can’t be repaired, it may be possible to surgically trim the meniscus through an arthroscopic procedure.
Physical therapy is crucial after surgery to regain knee strength and stability.
If you’re experiencing knee pain that you believe may be caused by a torn meniscus, it’s important to see a physician for an accurate diagnosis. While it may not be severe enough for surgery, your doctor will be able to recommend a treatment plan that works best for you.
Dr. Shah is a board-certified orthopedic surgeon with Kelsey-Seybold specializing in shoulder and knee injuries. He specializes in Sports Medicine, advanced arthroscopic surgery, cartilage repair, and shoulder reconstruction, including shoulder arthroscopy and shoulder replacements. Dr. Shah completed fellowships in Sports Medicine/arthroscopic surgery and shoulder reconstruction. Through education and teamwork, he forms a partnership with you to manage and treat your condition.