Meniscal tears are exceedingly common and can exist in any age group. The treatment for a meniscal tear depends on the age and demands of the patient, the presence or absence of arthritis, and the orientation of the tear.
The anatomy of meniscal tears
The meniscus is a C-shaped structure made of fibrocartilage positioned between the femur and tibia. They are affixed to the femur, tibia, and capsule and serve largely as “shock absorbers” to prevent overload on the cartilage.
What is a meniscus?
The meniscus can tear in a variety of ways. In younger patients with an otherwise healthy meniscus, the tear typically occurs as a result of a traumatic twisting of the knee.
As we age, the quality of the meniscus changes. This may be accompanied by narrowing of the space between the femur and tibia (as is seen in arthritis). As a result of these factors, the meniscus tears more easily. These are called degenerative meniscal tears and are very common.
Symptoms of a meniscus tear
You may experience a “pop” that is accompanied by sudden pain along the joint line. The knee often swells in the coming days. The most common symptoms of a meniscal tear are:
- Pain along the joint line
- Painful catching or clicking in the knee
- Restricted motion
- Certain tear patterns may cause your knee to “lock”
The diagnosis of a meniscus tear
Patient history and physical examination are often sufficient to generate suspicion of a meniscal tear. This is typically further evaluated with various imaging studies. The physical examination will include an assessment of knee range of motion, stability, and specific tests that target the meniscus.
Imaging test for a meniscus tear
- X-rays: X-rays do not show mensical tears. However, they are critical in evaluating for other disease, such as arthritis, as this strongly influences the treatment plan.
- MRI: MRI is required to more closely evaluate the meniscus for a tear
Treatment for a meniscus tear
Treatment for meniscal tears depends on the age and demands of the patient, in addition to the size, location, and type of meniscal tear.
Younger patients with an acute, traumatic meniscal tear often require surgery for optimal outcomes. Degenerative mensical tears, on the other hand, often do very well in the absence of surgery. Degenerative meniscal tears can often be successfully treated with NSAIDs, steroid injection, and physical therapy.
Do I need to get surgery for my meniscus tear?
For patients that cannot improve with non-surgical treatment, surgery may be recommended. The surgery is performed arthroscopically.
- Meniscus repair: depending on the tear location and type, the meniscus may be repaired with sutures with hopes that the tear will heal once stabilized
- Partial meniscectomy: the damaged aspect of the meniscus is removed if the tear type and location are not amenable to repair
What is the recovery process like for meniscus tear surgery?
- Meniscal repair: after repair, your weightbearing may be limited and you may be braced for a short period of time
- Partial meniscectomy: after meniscectomy, you will not have limitations in weight bearing or motion. You will progress both as tolerated.
If you think you have suffered from a meniscus tear, book an appointment today with Dr. David Dare. Dr. Dare is a fellowship-trained orthopedic surgeon specializing in sports medicine and shoulder surgery. His primary goal is to develop an effective treatment plan using the least invasive techniques to relieve your shoulder pain, restore function, and get you back to feeling your best. Call 919.781.5600 or fill out a form on this page.