Meniscal tears are the most common knee injury that can happen from any physical activity that causes a forceful rotation, or twist of the knee.
Each knee has two menisci which are C-shaped cartilage discs located on the inner and outer edge of the knee. They act as a cushion between the thigh bone and the shinbone.
There are three types of meniscal tears:
- Minor tear; light pain and swelling, usually resolves within two or three weeks
- Moderate tear; pain and swelling and stiffness that gets worse after a few days. The symptoms resolve within a few weeks but the pain tends to come back when the knee is overused
- Severe tear; severe pain, swelling and stiffness. The person will not be able to walk and there are pieces of the torn meniscus in the joint space
Physical activity is one of the main causes of the forceful rotation or twist of the knee that can lead to a meniscal tear. Kneeling and deep squatting as well can lead to a meniscal tear. Athletes and people participating in basketball, soccer, tennis and football are at greater risk for getting meniscal tear. Age is another cause of tears in the menisci as after the age of 30 the cartilage in the knee becomes weaker and thinner.
- Swelling of the affected knee
- Pain in the knee
- A popping sensation
- Difficulty straightening the knee
- The feeling that the knee is giving way or is unable to support the body
Meniscal tears are diagnosed with a physical examination but sometimes other tests are necessary to confirm the diagnosis. Image diagnostic like X-ray, MRI, Ultrasound and Arthroscopy are usually needed to confirm meniscal tears.
The first treatment for meniscal tears is:
- Bed rest
- Ice packs
- Pain killers
- Physical therapy to strengthen the knee muscles
Surgery is recommended only if none of these treatments helped and the pain is still persistent. In young adults and children a torn meniscus can often heal itself, but if not, it may require surgical trimming.