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Meniscus Tear
Dr. William Grant, MD - Albemarle Orthopaedics - Charlottesville, NC

The menisci are very important components of knee health. They are thin pieces of cartilage that protect the ends of the thigh bone and shin bone, cushioning and stabilizing the knee joint. Each knee joint has one meniscus on each side.

Sudden meniscal tears can occur from injury during activity—anyone can tear the meniscus while twisting, pivoting, or being tackled—but they can also occur as a result of aging. Dr. Grant has extensive training and experience treating meniscal tears with minimally invasive arthroscopic surgery , as well as using more conservative treatment options when possible. If you’ve experienced a sudden meniscal tear or have pain and stiffness in your knee joint, call our office. We will do everything we can to get you back to doing what you love as quickly as possible.

Common Questions about Meniscus Tear

How does a meniscal tear happen?

Meniscal tears are one of the most common knee injuries. They can either occur from a sudden injury during activity, such as twisting, pivoting, or quickly changing direction while running, or as a result of menisci that are weakened with age. A lot of cartilage tears come about gradually over time. The average person walks between 5,000 and 15,000 steps per day, depending on lifestyle, and the meniscus cushions can become softer and more prone to tear over time. Older patients with very weakened menisci can experience tears from simple movement, such as getting up out of a chair. After the tear occurs, athletes often keep playing, and older folks sometimes don’t notice immediately, until the knee becomes more stiff and swollen.

What does a meniscus tear feel like?

Sometimes, patients will hear the meniscus “pop” when it is torn. Symptoms of meniscal tear include this popping sensation, swelling, difficulty bending and straightening the leg, and, of course, pain in the knee. Often, the pain is not very bad immediately after the injury occurs and will only get worse once inflammation increases.

How is a meniscus tear diagnosed?

If a meniscus tear is suspected, Dr. Grant will do a thorough physical examination to determine whether or not a tear has occurred. He will check for tenderness along the joint line; bend, straighten, and rotate the knee to find a clicking noise that is characteristic of a torn meniscus; and possibly order x-rays or an MRI for further evaluation.

Will a meniscus tear heal on its own?

Most tears of the meniscus do not heal on their own. A small tear in the outer rim does have a good chance of healing. However, tears in the inner part of the meniscus often require surgery. When tears in this area are causing symptoms, they tend to get bigger. This puts the cartilage on the surfaces of the knee joint—which a healthy meniscus protects—at risk of injury.

Can meniscal tear be treated without surgery?

If a torn meniscus is suspected, Dr. Grant will first explore nonsurgical treatment options to resolve your pain and repair the injured meniscus—rest, ice, compression, and elevation of the injured knee. Cortisone injections may be used to reduce swelling in the knee area and allow a pinched lining or flap of meniscus to correct itself.

If symptoms persist with this nonsurgical treatment, Dr. Grant will talk with you about arthroscopic, or minimally invasive, surgical options. Because the meniscus is very important to long-term knee health, specialists will try to repair a torn meniscus whenever possible. While, in the past, surgeons would simply remove all or part of the injured meniscus, it is now known that this can lead to early arthritis.

What does meniscus surgery involve?

Dr. Grant performs meniscus surgery arthroscopically, which means that only small incisions are made—he does not need to open the knee joint. You will be placed under either general anesthesia or a spinal anesthesia, and two or three very small incisions will be made. The procedure itself is guided by a small, fiber-optic TV camera.

Depending on the nature of your meniscus injury, Dr. Grant will either do a partial meniscectomy, which involves carefully removing the damaged portion of the meniscus, or a meniscal repair. A meniscal repair will be done with either sutures or fasteners, used to push the torn edges of the meniscus together.

Read more about meniscal surgery in our patient guide.

How long does recovery from meniscus surgery take?

Meniscal surgery is an outpatient procedure, meaning that you’ll go home the same day. The incisions will be covered with surgical strips, and the knee will be wrapped in a bandage. For patients having a menisectomy, crutches may only be needed for one or two days. For patients needing meniscal repair, Dr. Grant may advise to not place any weight on the injured knee for four to six weeks, while the tear is healing. Depending on your individual case, Dr. Grant will provide thorough instructions of how much weight should be placed on your foot once while standing or walking. You may also need to ice the knee or keep it elevated and supported periodically for some time after surgery.

Patients recovering from meniscal tear surgery often engage in formal physical therapy post-procedure. You will be advised to avoid squatting for three to four months and avoid running, jumping, or twisting the knee for four to six months after surgery. However, Dr. Grant will work with you to determine the best plan of action for your individual case and strive to bring you back to full comfort and functionality as soon as possible.

How can I prevent meniscus tear?

While meniscus tear will occur often by chance or due to aging, you can decrease the risk of having a meniscus tear by regularly exercising the leg muscles in order to stabilize the knee joint. If you are especially at risk of a meniscal tear, you may also want to use protective gear such as a brace during activities which pose a heightened risk of injury.

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