Meniscus tears are one of the most common knee injuries. A tear can occur when a twisting motion in the knee is combined with full weight on the joint. At Elite, we see torn meniscuses in athletes whose sport requires a quick change in motion or jump off from a standing position (football, basketball, gymnasts, etc.). Your menisci are two pieces of cartilage between your shin and thigh bones. When these cartilages become torn, you may feel a popping sensation followed by pain and swelling. Your range of motion may be affected as well, making it difficult to fully extend your knee.
How Do I Know If I Tore My Meniscus?
You may experience a host of different symptoms that may cause you to believe you have torn your meniscus, but an MRI scan is the only way of truly knowing you have torn your meniscus. At Elite Sports Medicine, we offer MRI scans on-site at all our locations. Your doctor will examine your knee and ask questions about symptoms and when the injury occurred. It is important to be prepared for this evaluation and express your symptoms clearly so your doctor can order an MRI and get you on track to a full recovery.
Though an MRI is the best way to know if your meniscus is torn, there are a few telling symptoms to look out for.
If you are experiencing the following symptoms, it is important to see an orthopedic surgeon ASAP:
Can a Meniscus Tear Heal On Its Own?
The ability for a meniscus tear to heal on its own highly depends on the type of tear. If you have a minor tear or “micro” tear on the outer third of the meniscus, it may be able to heal on its own or at least avoid surgery. However, if your doctor determines the tear is too severe, surgery is the only option for repairing a meniscus tear. This surgery is common and 5 of our doctors at Elite Sports Medicine specialize in surgery of the knee.
What Happens If a Meniscus Tear is Left Untreated?
If left untreated you have a high risk of the tear becoming more severe, leading to even more complications long-term. There are certain treatment options directed by your doctor that will be important to follow whether the tear is severe or not. If left untreated, the tear can result in the frayed edge becoming caught on the joint or long-term soft tissue damage that could lead to arthritis.
What are the Treatment Options for a Torn Meniscus?
The RICE method (rest, ice, compress, elevate) can be used to relieve the pain caused by a meniscus tear, but it is not a cure. Your doctor may try physical therapy, a brace, or a cortisone shot to see if it relieves the pain enough to avoid surgery. These treatment options tend to only work in the short term and a long-term plan will need to be put into place to fully heal the tear. If these conservative treatments no longer help treat the pain, surgery is the only option for repairing a torn meniscus.
A grade 3 meniscus tear will require surgery and there are different forms of surgery depending on the tear. Arthroscopic surgery is a minimally invasive procedure that inserts an arthroscope into the knee to see the tear. Two small incisions are made to insert the instrument and from there the surgeon will determine if a partial or full arthroscopic meniscectomy will be needed. A stitch-like device can be used to repair the meniscus and these are absorbed by the body over time.
What is Recovery From Meniscus Surgery Like?
Like any surgery, recovery can be affected by many different variables. The type of meniscus tear surgery, age, physical therapy, underlying diseases like diabetes, and more can all contribute to a longer recovery time. It can take anywhere from 6 weeks to 3 months for a full recovery.
You will begin on crutches to give your body time to heal surgical wounds but will most like begin physical therapy straight away. Your physical therapist will help with the range of motion after surgery and may even use a device called a HIVAMAT that sends electrical currents through the injury to help with swelling and reduce soft tissue pain. Your physical therapist will be a great resource for any post-operative questions you may have and will be your best teammate throughout your recovery!
Once the surgical wounds start to heal you will slow start incorporating physical therapy exercises into your daily routine to help get your strength back. You will work with your PT to develop the best exercise plan for you based on your goals after surgery.
You will also have follow-up appointments with your doctor to make sure you are on track to a full recovery. Come prepared for these follow-ups with any questions you may have about your post-op recovery, and never be afraid to call your doctor if you are experiencing strange symptoms after surgery.
Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. (2019, November 15). Torn meniscus. Mayo Clinic. Retrieved December 15, 2021, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/torn-meniscus/symptoms-causes/syc-20354818