Meniscal tears are one of the most frequently reported injuries to the knee joint. The meniscus is a C-shaped fibrocartilaginous structure in the knee incompletely covering the surface of the tibia where it articulates with the femur. There is a medial meniscus, on the inner part of the knee, and a lateral meniscus on the outer aspect of the knee.
The menisci act as shock absorbers protecting the articular surface of the tibia as well as assisting in stabilisation of the knee. As secondary stabilizers, the intact menisci interact with the stabilizing function of the ligaments and are most effective when the surrounding ligaments are intact.
The majority of the meniscus has very poor blood supply and for that reason, when damaged, the meniscus is unable to undergo normal healing and often requires surgical intervention to either remove torn tissue or to attempt surgical repair.
In addition, meniscal cartilage begins to deteriorate with age, often developing degenerative tears. Typically, when the meniscus is damaged, the torn pieces begin to move in an abnormal fashion inside the joint.
Menisci may tear because of the reasons described below:
- Twisting motion
- Over flexing the knee joint
- Pivoting such as in sports activities
- Sudden stopping or deceleration
- Degenerative changes that occur over time which can weaken and thin the menisci resulting in tears
Following a twisting type of injury, the medial or lateral meniscus can tear. This results either from a sporting injury or may occur from a simple twisting injury when getting out of a chair or rising from a squatting position. Our cartilage becomes brittle as we get older and, therefore, can tear more easily.
The symptoms of a meniscal tear include:
- Pain over the inner or outer side of the knee where the tear occurred
- A “popping” may be felt at the time of injury
- Knee swelling, stiffness and ‘tightness’
- Reduced range of motion
Locking can occur if the torn cartilage gets caught between the femur and tibia preventing straightening of the knee.
Evaluating the source of knee pain is critical in determining your treatment options for relief of the pain. Your knee pain should be evaluated for proper diagnosis and treatment. Your surgeon will perform the following:
- Medical History
- Physical Examination
- Diagnostic tests such as X-rays and MRI scan
Treatment options will depend upon your age and activity level, the type of tear, location of the tear, and the extent of the tear. Conservative treatment measures may include pain medications, rest, physiotherapy, and potentially, a knee brace . If conservative treatments options fail to relieve your knee pain, your surgeon may recommend knee surgery to address meniscal tears.