The role of the meniscus is to provide cushion, act as a shock absorber and prevent extreme pivoting of the knee. Meniscal tears are among the most common knee injuries. Many athletes, especially runners and those in contact sports, are highly susceptible to tears. However, individuals at any age can experience tearing of the meniscus. Tears can be acute and traumatic, involving injury, or chronic and degenerative in nature. When the meniscus is degenerated over time, everyday activities such as slight pivoting or squatting can cause a tear. Symptoms of a meniscus tear are highly variable. Patients with an acute injury may hear a sudden "pop". Most patients are able to walk on their injured knee. However, with an acute injury, the knee will likely become swollen and stiff. Symptoms of degenerative tears include chronic pain, stiffness and intermittent swelling. Many meniscus tears cause mechanical symptoms, or catching and locking of the knee.
An MRI of the injured knee can assist in diagnosing meniscal tears and damage to other soft tissues of the joint.
Article: MRI of the Knee
Treatment for meniscal tears varies depending on the severity of the tear. If the tear is small, and symptoms are minor, conservative measures such as ice, rest and physical therapy may be sufficient. For larger tears and tears that fail to improve with conservative measures, surgery may be recommended. Surgery for a torn meniscus is an outpatient, arthroscopic procedure. The goal of the surgical procedure is to conserve as much of the meniscus as possible. If the torn portion of the meniscus is removed from the knee, it is referred to as a partial meniscectomy. If the meniscus if can be repaired, the torn edges of the meniscus will be reattached with sutures or tacks.
After a meniscectomy, a patient can expect to bear weight as tolerated and expect to not wear a brace, unless they have experienced an additional injury.
After a meniscal repair, a patient can expect to have restricted weight bearing and use crutches for 2-6 weeks. This protects the repair during the early healing phases.
All knee arthroscopy patients can expect to be involved in physical therapy after surgery to strengthen and condition their knee and return to sports in peak condition.