A meniscal tear is one of the most common types of knee injuries seen by orthopedic surgeons. Each knee has two menisci, which are crescent-shaped rubbery discs that function as shock absorbers, cushioning the knee. About 33 percent of people older than age 50 have a tear in one of them. If you've been diagnosed with a meniscal tear, here's what you need to know about the sizes and symptoms of tears, besides how this condition is treated.
Acute vs. Degenerative Tears
The two main kinds of meniscus tears are acute and degenerative. Acute tears, also known as traumatic tears, are the result of injuries that usually occur from sports. On the other hand, degenerative tears are caused by wear and tear, rather than from trauma. This type of tear mostly happens to older people.
Sizes and Symptoms of Tears
Tears are catheterized as small, moderate or large. If you have only a small tear, you can feel pain when the injury occurs, along with some swelling for several days. The pain is minimal and you can walk, but it can worsen when you bend or squat. Within three weeks or less, symptoms typically go away.
With a moderate tear, you may feel pain in the center or the side of your knee. You're still able to walk, but your knee feels inflexible, and inflammation may increase for two to three days. Squatting or twisting can cause sharp pain. If left untreated, symptoms can return when you overuse or twist your knee.
Pain, stiffness and inflammation can begin immediately in larger tears. These symptoms can worsen after two to three days. Straightening your knee may be impossible, and your knee may lock, pop or catch. Another symptom is feeling unstable, with your knee giving way without any warning.
Nonsurgical treatments include:
- Resting—Stop doing activities that put stress on your knee joint. Resting can reduce pain. Keep your injured knee elevated while you sleep. This helps to drain fluid, besides reduces swelling.
- Wearing a bandage—An elastic bandage can protect your knee and stop inflammation.
- Icing the affected spot—Applying ice packs for 15-minute intervals can help reduce inflammation and pain.
- Using over-the-counter painkillers—Anti-inflammatory medications can be effective in reducing swelling and pain so that you recover quicker.
An arthroscopic surgery is a diagnostic procedure that lasts for about an hour. First, your surgeon determines whether the tear can be repaired or if the meniscus is removable. If your surgeon believes the meniscus is repairable, he or she will remove it by making another incision.
To repair the meniscus, your surgeon stitches back the torn edges, so the meniscus can heal naturally. Most cases entail removing a portion of the meniscus, while leaving healthy tissue alone.
Considerations and Warnings
- The pattern of a tear can determine if it can be repaired. While longitudinal tears can usually be repaired, most flap and horizontal or obliques aren't repairable.
- If the tear is in an area that has a better supply of blood, there's a greater possibility for healing than if there's a minimal blood supply.
- You may not need surgery if your symptoms go away, and you have a stable knee. If so, your doctor may be able to use nonsurgical treatments.
- Having osteoarthritis arthritis can make you more susceptible to a meniscal tear.
- Simply getting up from a chair can cause a tear if your menisci have undergone significant wear and tear due to aging.
If you have any type of knee pain, be sure to see an orthopedic surgeon. Instead of a meniscal tear, your pain may caused by knee osteoarthritis, which can be treated much less conservatively.