What is a Meniscus Tear?
The meniscus is crescent-shaped fibrocartilage that acts as a shock absorber in the knee.
There is a lateral and medial meniscus, and they are both found sandwiched between the lower thigh bone and upper shin bone. There are 2 different types of tears – acute and chronic.
An acute tear is most often a result of a trauma, while chronic tears are commonly seen in elderly people who have degeneration occurring in their meniscus.
How did I get a Meniscus Tear?
Meniscus tears can be due to trauma (acute) and be degenerative (chronic). Factors that may put one at a greater risk of getting a meniscus tear include athletics, occupation, hobbies and age.
Athletics- Meniscus tears are common in sports such as soccer and tennis, making up 15% of all sports injuries. The most common injury-provoking action is twisting on a slightly bent leg through a weight-bearing knee.
Other Existing Conditions- In older populations, knee osteoarthritis can lead to the weakening of the menisci, making it more susceptible to lesions.
Symptoms of a Meniscus Tear
Sometimes, people with meniscus tears show no symptoms and may heal spontaneously. However, it is normal to see symptoms such as the following:
- locking of the knee
- popping or knee-clicking sound
- medial or lateral knee pain
- intermittent pain
- pain worsened by knee flexion and loading of the knee in activities like squatting or kneeling (common symptom with a degenerative-caused meniscal tear)
How is a Meniscus Tear Diagnosed?
Ultrasound and MRIs are the most common forms of imaging that help give clinicians a visual of what is going on inside the knee. An ultrasound is usually first ordered, with a follow-up MRI scan to provide a more detailed image of the knee.
A knee exam is another great approach to diagnosing a meniscal tear since it is function-based. In a physical exam, the knee is assessed through palpation (touch), the range of motion of the knee, analysis of how you walk, and specific tests that help determine the status of the menisci and surrounding structures.
Treatment of a Meniscus Tear
First and foremost, it is important to Rest, Ice, Compress and Elevate (RICE Method) periodically in the 24 hours post-acute-injury. This will help reduce pain and swelling.
If you have come into the clinic with a meniscus tear that shows few or irregular symptoms, it is recommended to be treated using a conservative approach which involves physiotherapy. With Physiotherapy, we would focus on progressively strengthening and increasing flexibility of the quadriceps and hamstring muscles, using joint mobilization, and improving your balance and agility to restore your function and help with joint pain.
Although preservation of meniscal tissue through conservative treatment is most recommended, in some cases, a surgical approach is needed to resolve the injury.