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Calendar >  Healthy Community Healthy You – Meniscus Tears – Never Taking Our Knees For Granted

Healthy Community Healthy You – Meniscus Tears – Never Taking Our Knees For Granted

By   /  December 16, 2023  /  No Comments

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Dr. Megan Johnson McCullough – Knee pain and swelling isn’t uncommon, considering every step we take, every time we sit down or stand up, and even just standing, we are using our knees. They hold our bodyweight to perform all these functions and in so many different directions and angels. We run, jump, and climb stairs with them too. Meniscus tears in the knee are the most common knee injury treated. In the U.S., there are nearly 850,000 meniscus surgeries performed each year.  The meniscus is a C-shaped piece of cartilage that serves as a cushion between the thighbone (femur) and the shinbone (tibia). It is a shock absorber. You can tear the inner (medial) or outer (lateral) meniscus. Anyone at any age can tear this, but athletes and older people with degeneration in the knee are at higher risk.

The meniscus is at risk of being torn when we suddenly stop, pivot, rotate, or twist, which forcefully puts the meniscus in a compromised position. Typically, within 24 hours a person will experience pain and swelling if there is a tear. Some people hear a pop when it happens, some are unable to straighten their knee well, and some feel like their knee is going to give out.

Treating a torn meniscus can be controversial because surgery is not always necessary. However, treatment depends on age, lifestyle, severity, and how long the symptoms have carried on. Most doctors suggest avoiding surgery if possible. This is especially true for minor tears. Tears that occur in the “red zone” are in a more stable area of the meniscus that receives good supply which is in turn good for healing. The traditional RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation) method can be done, which is the first step. NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) can also be used for possibly 8-12 weeks to reduce swelling and pain. Corticosteroid injections are also a possible form of treatment that can help for about 2 to 4 weeks. For this, a doctor injects glucocorticoids into the meniscus site. Physical therapy is another option. A physical therapist will provide exercises to strengthen the area of the meniscus and those areas around the knee such as the quadriceps. Wearing a specific brace can also stabilize the knee during healing.

Meniscus surgery is called meniscectomy.  The meniscus tissue is either trimmed or repaired. Some tears do require surgery for specific reasons. Tears that happen on the inner two-thirds of the meniscus do not heal on their own because they don’t receive blood flow. If pain and swelling is not subsiding after other conservative measures have been taken, then surgery may be needed to remove the torn area. There are also complicated tears that won’t heal on their own.

We demand a lot from our knees and sometimes our expectations to do whatever we can movement-wise, just isn’t mechanically possible without injury. Fortunately, our body is incredibly resilient. We still have to be careful with every step we take, anytime, anywhere. 

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