What is a Meniscus Tear?

A Meniscus tear is common among athletes and active individuals. In fact, it is estimated that over 500,000 meniscus tears occur each year in the United States. Meniscus tears occur most frequently for athletes who participate in sports that require a lot of twisting, changing positions, or squatting.

A meniscus tear occurs most often when the foot is planted, and a sudden twisting motion happens. The force of the movement can cause the meniscus to fray or tear. A meniscus tear can also occur over time, when the meniscus loses resiliency as seen with wear and tear injuries or age. It is vital to a patient’s recovery to receive a correct diagnosis and treatment plan for the type of meniscus tear they have experienced. A second opinion from one of our “Best in Class” orthopedic experts can go a long way in returning you to your pre-injury state. Many of our patients have avoided unnecessary surgery by receiving a second opinion through our unique orthopedic telemedicine platform.

What and where is the meniscus in the knee?

Meniscus is derived from the Greek word “meniskos” meaning crescent moon. Each knee has two wedge-shaped menisci made of rubbery fibrocartilage, located in the center of the knee joint. The lateral meniscus is on the outer side of the knee joint, while the medial meniscus sits on the inner portion. They are flat on the bottom and concave on the top and they move with the tibia (shin bone). The job of the meniscus is to disperse friction in the knee joint between the tibia and the femur (thigh bone) literally acting as a shock-absorber. The menisci are not free-floating, they have attachments to both the tibia and the surrounding joint capsule.

The menisci are designed to withstand a tremendous amount of pressure, or load across the knee. They provide a gliding surface that decreases joint pressure across a triple joint contact area. The force placed on the knee is distributed over a large area, making full range of motion possible when weight is applied.

What are common symptoms of a torn meniscus?

The symptoms of a torn meniscus vary depending on the severity of the tear. A small tear may have little side-effects, while a larger tear can cause severe and immediate pain. Other common symptoms of a torn meniscus are:

  • A popping sound or sensation at the time of injury
  • Sudden and extreme pain
  • Swelling in the joint
  • Knee instability or the feeling of it giving way
  • Decreased range of motion and stiffness
  • Inability to place weight on the knee
  • Inability to completely bend or straighten the knee
  • Gradual unrelenting pain with long-standing meniscus tears that occur over time

How is a meniscus tear diagnosed?

The best diagnostic tool for identifying a torn meniscus is an MRI or Magnetic Resonance Imaging. An MRI uses radio waves and strong magnetic fields to produce detailed images of the tissues inside the body. An MRI scan can be done simply and does not cause pain; the patient simply lies down and is positioned in an MRI machine, or tube. The specialists at BICMD are skilled at identifying torn or frayed menisci from an MRI. They can provide a referral for a MRI for you, or can evaluate your current MRI and suggest proper treatment.

How is a torn meniscus treated?

The treatment for a torn meniscus will depend greatly on the size, location and type of meniscus tear. Our physicians also take into consideration the patient’s age, medical history, activity level and goals for returning to sport or regular activities. Some meniscal tears do not require surgery. For instance, meniscus tears that occur over time and are associated with knee arthritis often improve overtime with the treatment of the arthritis. Tears that do not cause locking or loss of motion with the knee can also heal overtime.

Non-surgical treatment may include:

  • Rest
  • Ice
  • Medication
  • Biologic therapies such as stem-cell injection or BMAC (Bone Marrow Aspirate Concentrate)
  • Physical Therapy

Surgical treatment for a torn meniscus:

Surgical treatment is indicated when more conservative measures fail to alleviate pain, or if the torn knee cartilage is in an area that cannot heal on its own. The specialists at BICMD use a minimally invasive surgical technique called arthroscopic meniscus repair. Arthroscopic knee surgery is done inside the knee joint, using a small camera called an arthroscope and small, specialized instruments. The skilled and experienced orthopedic knee surgeons at BICMD may perform one or more surgical techniques for operating on the meniscus arthroscopically. Arthroscopic meniscus repair, debridement and meniscus transplant are a few of the available treatments.

How long does it take to recover from a torn meniscus?

Recovery from a meniscus tear varies greatly depending on the size, location and type of tear. Simple surgical repairs can take around 4 months to heal. Complex tears that require extensive surgery can take 5 to 7 months to heal and for an athlete to return to sport and pre-injury levels.

Do you have knee pain or the symptoms associated with a meniscus tear? Have you been diagnosed with a meniscus tear and would like a second opinion regarding your treatment options? Please click on “Connect With a Doctor” to reach one of our orthopedic telemedicine experts and to use our state-of-the-art telehealth platform.