Anatomy of the Knee Joint
The knee is one of the most complex and largest joint in the body and is more susceptible to injury. Meniscal tears are one among the common injuries to the knee joint. It can occur at any age but are more common in athletes playing contact sports or later in life due age-related degenerative tears.
The meniscus is a small, "c" shaped piece of cartilage in the knee. Each knee consists of two menisci, medial meniscus on the inner aspect of the knee and the lateral meniscus on the outer aspect of the knee. The medial and lateral meniscus act as cushion between the thighbone (femur) and shinbone (tibia). The meniscus has no direct blood supply and for that reason, when there is an injury to the meniscus, healing cannot take place. The meniscus acts like a “shock absorber” in the knee joint.
Causes of Meniscal Injuries
Meniscal tears often occur during sports. These tears are usually caused by twisting motion or over flexing of the knee joint. Athletes who play sports such as football, tennis and basketball are at a higher risk of developing meniscal tears. They often occur along with injuries to the anterior cruciate ligament, a ligament that crosses from the femur (thighbone) to the tibia (shinbone). They can also occur due age-related degeneration.
Symptoms of Meniscal Injuries
Various types of meniscal tears that can occur are longitudinal, bucket handle, flap, parrot -beak and mixed or complex.
The symptoms of a meniscal tear include:
- Knee pain when walking
- A “popping “or “clicking” may be felt at the time of injury
- Tenderness when pressing on the meniscus
- Swelling of the knee
- Limited motion of the knee joint
- Joint locking can occur if the torn cartilage gets caught between the femur and tibia preventing straightening of the knee
Diagnosis of Meniscal Injuries
A careful medical history and physical examination can help diagnose meniscal injury. The McMurray test is one of the important tests for diagnosing meniscal tears. During this test, your doctor will bend the knee is, then straighten and rotate it in and out. This creates pressure on the torn meniscus. Pain or a click during this test may suggest a meniscal tear. Your doctor may order imaging tests such as knee joint X-ray and knee MRI to help confirm the diagnosis.
Treatment of Meniscal Injuries
The treatment depends on the pattern and location of the tear. If the meniscal tear is not severe, your doctor may begin with non-surgical treatments that may include:
- Rest: Avoid activities that may cause injury. You may need to use crutches temporarily to limit weight bearing.
- Ice: Ice application to reduce swelling
- Pain medications: Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to help reduce swelling and pain
- Physiotherapy: Physiotherapy may be recommended for muscle and joint strengthening.
If the symptoms are persisting and conservative treatment fails, your may need a knee arthroscopic surgery to assess the torn meniscus for either repair or debridement. If repair of the meniscus is performed, your rehabilitation may be prolonged over 3-6 months to protect the repair and allow it to heal. In contrast, recovery after meniscal debridement is much quicker and most patients are able to resume usual activities after 4-6 weeks.