A torn meniscus is one of the most common knee injuries. Any activity that causes you to forcefully twist or rotate your knee, especially when putting your full weight on it, can lead to a torn meniscus.
Each of your knees has two C-shaped pieces of cartilage that act like a cushion between your shinbone and your thighbone (menisci). A torn meniscus causes pain, swelling and stiffness. You also might feel a block to knee motion and have trouble extending your knee fully.
Conservative treatment — such as rest, ice and medication — is sometimes enough to relieve the pain of a torn meniscus and give the injury time to heal on its own. In other cases, however, a torn meniscus requires surgical repair.
KNEE MENISCUS ANATOMY
If you've torn your meniscus, you might have the following signs and symptoms in your knee:
A popping sensation
Swelling or stiffness
Pain, especially when twisting or rotating your knee
Difficulty straightening your knee fully
Feeling as though your knee is locked in place when you try to
Feeling of your knee giving way
A torn meniscus can result from any activity that causes you to forcefully twist or rotate your knee, such as aggressive pivoting or sudden stops and turns. Even kneeling, deep squatting or lifting something heavy can sometimes lead to a torn meniscus.
In older adults, degenerative changes of the knee can contribute to a torn meniscus with little or no trauma.
Treatment for a torn meniscus often begins conservatively, depending on the type, size and location of your tear.
Tears associated with arthritis often improve over time with treatment of the arthritis, so surgery usually isn't indicated. Many other tears that aren't associated with locking or a block to knee motion will become less painful over time, so they also don't require surgery.
Your doctor might recommend:
Avoid activities that aggravate your knee pain, especially any activity that causes you to twist, rotate or pivot your knee. If your pain is severe, using crutches can take pressure off your knee and promote healing.
Ice can reduce knee pain and swelling. Use a cold pack, a bag of frozen vegetables or a towel filled with ice cubes for about 15 minutes at a time, keeping your knee elevated. Do this every four to six hours the first day or two, and then as often as needed.
Over-the-counter pain relievers also can help ease knee pain.
Physical therapy can help you strengthen the muscles around your knee and in your legs to help stabilize and support the knee joint.
If your knee remains painful despite rehabilitative therapy or if your knee locks, your doctor might recommend surgery. It's sometimes possible to repair a torn meniscus, especially in children and young adults.
If the tear can't be repaired, the meniscus might be surgically trimmed, possibly through tiny incisions using an arthroscope. After surgery, you will need to do exercises to increase and maintain knee strength and stability.
If you have advanced, degenerative arthritis, your doctor might recommend a knee replacement. For younger people who have signs and symptoms after surgery but no advanced arthritis, a meniscus transplant might be appropriate. The surgery involves transplanting a meniscus from a cadaver.
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