What is a meniscus?
Your knee meniscus is a C-shaped piece of cartilage that acts as a cushion between your femur (thigh bone) and your tibia (shin bone). Each knee joint has a medial meniscus and a lateral meniscus. A meniscus acts as a shock absorber, preventing damage to bone surfaces, and assisting with rotational stability.
What is a meniscus tear?
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. Older age and obesity can also lead to meniscus tears as well. There are two main causes of meniscal injuries:
- Traumatic – In the younger population, meniscus tears are typically the result of traumatic sports injuries, by twisting on a slightly flexed knee
- Degenerative – In the older adult, a meniscus tear may be due to natural age-related degeneration of the meniscus or from the wear-and-tear of arthritis
What are the symptoms of a torn meniscus?
If you've torn your meniscus, you may experience the following symptoms:
- Joint swelling or stiffness
- Pain, especially when twisting or rotating your knee
- A clicking or popping sensation
- Feeling as though your knee is locked in place when you try to move it
- Difficulty straightening your knee fully
- Feeling of your knee giving way
- Pain and difficulty with squatting
How is a meniscus tear diagnosed?
Clinical examination may reveal pain and tenderness along the joint lines of the inside or outside of your knee. Your doctor may perform a McMurray's test and other clinical assessments to help confirm the diagnosis. Dr. Potts will commonly perform x-rays to evaluate the bony structure of your knee, and may order an MRI scan to confirm the diagnosis and rule out other additional injuries.
What is the treatment?
Treatment of a meniscus tear varies based on the type of tear and the location within the knee joint. Dr. Potts will carefully consider the patient’s age, activity level and other associated knee injuries when determining the best treatment plan. A small meniscus tear, or a tear in the red zone (with good blood supply for healing), will usually respond well with conservative management.
In some cases, a torn meniscus may require surgical intervention with minimally invasive knee arthroscopy. Dr. Potts strives to preserve as much healthy meniscus as possible due to its protective effect on the knee.
- Meniscus Repair – When possible, Dr. Potts will utilize surgery sutures to sew the meniscus tear back together, in order to facilitate healing and preserve meniscal function
- Partial Meniscectomy – If the tear is degenerative, complex, and non-repairable, a procedure called a partial meniscectomy will remove the damaged portion of the meniscus.
- Meniscus Transplant – In younger patients with little to no meniscus left, a perfectly size-matched meniscus from a cadaver donor is transplanted into the patient’s knee
What happens if a torn meniscus is left untreated?
A large meniscus tear that is inadequately treated may cause premature degenerative changes (osteoarthritis) within the knee. Untreated meniscus tears can also increase in tear size and extend the damaged area of the meniscus. The tear may also deteriorate and come loose within the knee joint, resulting in the knee locking or giving way.