The meniscus are a small, "c" shaped pieces of cartilage that act as a cushions in the knee joint. They sit between the thigh bone (femur) and the tibia (shin bone), one on the outside (lateral menisus) and one on the inside of the knee (medial meniscus).
These pieces of cartilage can be injured during movements that forcefully rotate the knee while bearing weight. A partial or total tear of a meniscus sometimes occurs if an athlete quickly twists or rotates the upper leg while the foot is firmly planted, such as those that occur in field sports such as soccer, and football.
An injuried meniscus causes mild to severe pain (particularly when the knee is straightened) depending upon the extent of the injury. Severe pain is common when a torn meniscus fragment catches between the femur and tibia. Swelling is common at the time of injury, but can develop hours later as the joint tissues inflame. Frequently, an injury to the meniscus causes an audible click or pop, or the knee may lock, or feel weak. If the meniscal injury is small, these symptoms may resolve over time without treatment, but most meniscus injuries require treatment.
To diagnose a menicus injury, a physician will take a complete history and perform a physical exam. It is often possibly to determine the extent of the injury by manipulating the knee in various ways. Pain, pops, or clicks during this test may suggest a meniscal tear. An MRI may also be done to see the extent of the tear.
Treatment varies depending upon the extent of the tear. If the tear is minor and the pain and other symptoms resolve quickly, muscle strengthening exercises may be all that is required to recover fully. Physical therapy is often required to ensure that the exercises properly.
A large meniscus tear often requires arthroscopic surgery for repair. This is a common, outpatient procedure. A small camera is inserted into the joint through a small incision, while surgical instuments are inserted into the joint through a second, small incision. With the camera, the surgeon can see the entire joint and remove and repair the torn pieces of meniscus. The goal is to save as much of the original, normal meniscal cartilage as possible.
Recovery is dependent upon the extent of the surgery and your surgeon and physical therapist will provide a full rehab schedule.
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