Injury to the Cartilage That Cushions the Knee Joint
Cartilage is a type of connective tissue that is tough, but flexible. In the knee joint, there are two C-shaped pieces of cartilage called menisci. These special types of cartilage provide a shock-absorbing cushion between the femur (thighbone) and tibia (shinbone). If you bend or twist your knee improperly or your knee gets hit with some force, meniscal tears can happen.
Meniscal tears are one of the most common sports-related injuries, often occurring simultaneously with another knee injury like an ACL tear. Even so, anyone can experience a torn meniscus. Some reasons meniscus tears occur include:
- The knee is twisted or bent in an awkward way while changing direction or landing from a jump.
- Too much stress is put on the knee when you kneel or squat, especially if you’re lifting something heavy.
- The knee gets hit forcefully (common during contact sports).
- The meniscus has become weak and thin with age, but not all meniscal tears are symptomatic. There is a relatively high rate of these degenerative meniscal tears in those over 50 that do not cause pain. Those do not need treatment.
Symptoms, Diagnosis and Outlook
The signs and symptoms of a torn meniscus are:
- A popping feeling in the knee at the time of injury
- Pain in the affected knee
- Swelling and stiffness in the affected knee within a couple of days of becoming injured
- A loss in range of motion
- Pain when squatting
Sometimes torn meniscal tissue can loosen and move into a joint. This causes a sensation of popping and locking when you bend and straighten your knee. Your doctor can check for this during a physical exam to diagnose your injury. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) may also be done to visualize the damaged knee tissue.
Treatment for a torn meniscus depends on the location and severity of the tear, your age and how active you are. Some tears can be treated with rest and proper self-care. If you require surgery, recovery can take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months, depending on the type of procedure you need. With the right treatment can generally get patients back to the activities they enjoy.
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