With Just One Twist, You Could Have A Torn Meniscus

St. Luke’s Hospital

For those who have torn their meniscus, the telltale signs can present themselves in multiple forms: a popping sensation, swelling or stiffness, pain when twisting, bending or rotating the knee, difficulty straightening the knee, a sensation of the knee “giving way” or feeling as if the knee is “locked” in place.

Some might assume this injury predominately affects just athletes or those individuals who are involved in activities such as football, hockey, tennis or basketball. While those people do make up many of the cases, anyone can be at risk for tearing their meniscus, especially older individuals. That’s because, over the years, their cartilage has begun to wear out which leads to diminished resilience. And, as we get older, some individuals put on extra weight, which can add to the wear and tear on the knee. In some cases, performing ordinary activities such as kneeling, squatting or lifting heavy objects can cause the meniscus to tear.

The question then becomes: when should someone visit a specialist about possible symptoms of a meniscus tear? An immediate examination by a knee specialist is recommended to minimize damage and to alleviate discomfort to the patient.

An orthopedic physician will typically be able to properly diagnose the issue through a physical examination by moving the knee in various positions. Imaging tests are used to more accurately pinpoint the cause of the pain. These include X-rays, which can rule out other problems that occur in the knee that share similar symptoms, and MRI, which produces detailed images of the hard and soft tissues within the knee.

Initial treatment varies based on individual patient factors. Young patients, athletes and patients with acute traumatic tears are typically treated with surgery to repair the meniscus or remove the torn pieces, depending on the location and complexity of the tear. For patients who develop a degenerative meniscus tear—one associated with knee arthritis—treatment usually begins conservatively with rest, ice, compression, elevation, over-the-counter pain relievers and possibly a cortisone injection. In some cases, this is all the patient will need to recover from this type of injury. Physical therapy is also an option to rehabilitate and strengthen the muscles around the knee to help stabilize it. If these treatment options do not provide resolution, surgery may be appropriate. In any surgical case, it is preferred to preserve as much of the meniscus as possible to prevent any future degenerative issues in the knee joint.

Dr. Andrew Blackman is an expert in all orthopedic conditions, including a torn meniscus. For an appointment, please call 314.523.2595.