What is a meniscus tear?
The meniscus is located between the top of your shinbone and the base of your thighbone. You have two menisci in your knee, and their main job is to help cushion the knee joint and absorb shock. Direct injury to the knee or certain motions of the knee can cause the meniscus to split, this is known as a meniscus tear.
Meniscus tears can vary based on their severity, their appearance, and their location. The most common types of meniscus tears are the radial tear, the bucket handle tear, and the flap tear. The bucket handle tear presents itself as a hole in the meniscus; the flap tear occurs at the edges of the meniscus, leaving a flap of cartilage hanging; and the radial tear is degenerative, gradually occurring, causing the meniscus to fray and wear away over time.
What causes a meniscus tear?
Meniscus tears can occur through direct injury or through non-contact injury, typically during sport or other related activities. A direct injury can occur during high-impact sport, such as football, hockey, and soccer. A non-contact injury can occur with certain maneuvers, such as squatting or twisting.
In older people, meniscus tears are likely the result of the cartilage wearing away and weakening with age, this is known as a degenerative tear, which occurs gradually, over time. When the meniscus becomes weak, it is more susceptible to tears — sometimes causing the meniscus to tear during simple routine activities.
What are the symptoms of a meniscus tear?
One of the very first signs of a torn meniscus is a “popping” sensation in the knee. While you may initially still be able to walk and engage in normal activities, symptoms may worsen in the following days. Additional symptoms of a meniscus tear may include:
- Stiff knee and knee swelling
- Pain in the affected area
- Decreased or impaired mobility of the knee
- Feeling as though your knee is locking
- Feeling as though your knee is going to buckle
- Feeling as though your knee can not support your weight
In some cases, if left untreated, the meniscus may become loose, causing a “snapping” sensation and causing the knee to slip.
How can I tell if I have a meniscus tear?
If you are experiencing any of the above symptoms or believe you have a torn meniscus, an evaluation by an experienced medical professional can help determine the cause of your symptoms. To help diagnose a meniscus tear, your doctor will begin by going over your medical history and symptoms. Next, your doctor will perform a physical exam of your knee, assessing the degree of and site of pain.
Your doctor will also perform what is known as the McMurray test. During this test, your doctor will bend your knee and straighten and turn your knee. Typically, if you have a meniscus tear, this test will cause the knee to make a “clicking” noise. To ensure that your symptoms are not the result of a similar condition or injury, your doctor may need to perform additional testing. Additional testing may include X-rays, MRIs, and other imaging tests.
How is a torn meniscus treated?
If you are suffering from a torn meniscus and are seeking pain relief, there are surgical and nonsurgical treatment options available. Based on various factors, such as the type of tear, its location, and size, treatment will vary. Some tears may heal on their own and without surgery, while other tears may require conservative treatment to help promote recovery. In some cases, a meniscus tear may require surgery.
Here at our practice, whenever possible, we aim to first recommend nonsurgical treatments to help restore mobility, alleviate pain, and prevent the progression of damage. Nonsurgical treatment typically involves non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as aspirin, to help alleviate pain and swelling. Rest, ice, compression, and elevation — also known as the RICE method — can also help strengthen the healing process.
When nonsurgical treatment options are ineffective, we specialize in and offer surgical treatment options such as arthroscopy and open surgery to help provide pain relief and repair and restore knee function. Platelet-rich plasma therapy may also be used to help promote healing, alleviate pain, and enhance recovery time.
If you are experiencing symptoms of a meniscus tear, a consultation with an orthopedic specialist may be the first step towards diagnosis, treatment, and recovery. Dr. Burrus is an experienced fellowship-trained orthopedic surgeon who is dedicated to providing high-quality, specialized holistic care. Call 512.477.6341 or fill out the form on this page to schedule an appointment.