One of the most common cartilage knee injuries is meniscus tears, with about 56% of men in their 70s to 90s tearing their meniscus compared to 19% of women in the same age group. However, anyone of any age can cause this injury. So, what is a meniscus tear?

First, you need to understand what the meniscus is. The meniscus is the cartilage in your knee that stabilizes your joints and protects them from wear and tear. Even though your meniscus is there to protect your knee, it only takes one good twist or fall to tear it. And once you tear it, immense pain follows suit. We want to prepare and educate you on everything you need to know about meniscus tears. Keep reading to learn more. 

What causes meniscus tears?

There are many ways you can tear your meniscus. In general, any activity that involves forcibly rotating or twisting your knees can tear it. Even a fall can cause it to tear. Commonly, doctors see this issue more in athletes or individuals who enjoy playing sports. For example, people who play contact sports like football or participate in sports that involve a lot of pivoting like tennis or basketball are more likely to tear their meniscus. 

As mentioned above, men are more likely to tear their meniscus. However, women can tear it too. The elderly are more prone to tear it as well. The older you get, the weaker your muscles, cartilage and body become. However, it is crucial to know that tearing a meniscus can happen at any age and with any activity. 

What are the symptoms of meniscus tears?

Like many other issues involving the cartilage of your knee, severe symptoms often include pain. When you first tear your meniscus, you may not feel any or much pain at all. However, over time and with more use, your knee will start to swell, bringing on the pain and inflammation. 

Patients come across many symptoms of knee pain (especially when rotating or pivoting), a popping sensation, swelling, stiffness, difficulty straightening the knee, and your knee locking up. If you have any of these symptoms, you need to see your doctor or orthopedic specialist right away. 

What are the treatment options for a meniscus tear?

Thankfully, meniscus tears are prevalent and have a wide variety of treatments. Your doctor will first examine your knee. They may give you an X-Ray or MRI to rule out broken bones or any other issues. After the examination, they will provide you with the best treatment options.

Your doctor may suggest non-surgical or surgical routes depending on the severity of the tear, your age, your medical records and its location. The outer part of the meniscus (aka the red zone) gets a fair amount of blood, so small tears in this area can heal on their own. If the tear is in the second two layers (aka the white zone), it will not heal independently and needs additional steps to get it back to normal. 

Individuals who go the non-surgical route will need to rest the knee. Utilizing ice, compression bandages and elevation can relieve some of the pain. While avoiding impact exercises, taking anti-inflammatory medications and maintaining a stretching routine will alleviate the problem area’s stress. However, more severe tears will require you to have surgery. The surgeon will stabilize the site, and patients typically go home the same day after surgery. Short-term results have a 85% to 90% success rate for patients; however, long-term issues like knee arthritis are high in these individuals. If you do have surgery, make sure to follow your doctor’s care instructions. And, if you notice any issues or have concerns, contact them right away. 

How can you avoid meniscus tears?

If you want to avoid tearing your meniscus, there are some ways you can prep and protect yourself. However, it is best to remember that meniscus tears occur mainly due to accidents, so you cannot always avoid it from happening. Some of the precautions you can take include keeping your thigh muscles strong, doing a light warm-up before any activity, letting your body rest between each exercise or workout, having shoes with enough support and flexibility, and adding intensity in small doses instead of all at once. 

Your doctor or a physical therapist can give you tips, advice and additional exercises or stretches to help. If you feel like you are doing too much, always take a break. Never push yourself to the point of accidentally harming yourself. 

Knee specialist in Cary and Raleigh

Now that you know more about meniscus tears, it is time to take care of yourself. If you ever come across any of these symptoms, please contact your orthopedic knee specialist to give you an exam and consult. Need a new orthopedic doctor? No worries, give us a call today to schedule your appointment.