Tears of the meniscus are a common source of knee pain. Tears can be due to sports injuries, slips and falls, car accidents and from degeneration. When a tear occurs from injury, pain is usually acute and sometimes the injury is associated with a pop and the development of swelling. The swelling could be immediate or occur over the next 24-48 hours. Pain is usually located at the joint line on the inside or outside of the knee. Degenerative type meniscal tears often occur gradually and got progressively worse but could have acute onset of pain as well. Associated signs and symptoms of a meniscal tear include pain at the joint line, swelling and sometimes locking or catching. In acute injuries, the meniscus can sometimes displace and cause locking or lack of motion of the knee.
Diagnosis of meniscal tear starts with a thorough history, physical exam and x-rays. X-rays are helpful to determine if there are any fractures with an acute injury, underlying arthritic changes and loose bodies within the joint. Underlying arthritis is frequently associated with degenerative meniscal tears. If x-rays are negative and clinical suspicion indicates a meniscal tear, an MRI may be ordered. Meniscal tears also occur frequently with ligament injuries to the knee, such as ACL tear. Special consideration should be given to meniscal tears associated with arthritic changes of the joint. In this particular situation, it is common to have a meniscal tear and arthritis at the same time. Current research indicates that in the majority of cases, pain comes from the underlying arthritis more so than the meniscal tear. It is common for your orthopedic surgeon to recommend nonsurgical management of a meniscal tear when there are significant arthritic changes present. There are certain indications and situations where more aggressive management of a meniscal tear would be warranted when they are underlying degenerative changes of the knee, a discussion with your surgeon will help determine which treatment method is most appropriate.
There are different types of tear patterns. They include vertical/longitudinal tears, radial tears (meniscal root variant), horizontal cleavage tears, complex tears, oblique tears, degenerative tears, and bucket-handle tears.
Treatment of meniscal tears depends on the level of symptoms, presence or absence of recurrence swelling, mechanical symptoms of catching and locking and the affective these on participation in sports or exercise. Treatment could include physical therapy, activity modification, anti-inflammatory medication and bracing. Treatment could also include injections, especially when there underlying arthritic changes. Surgical management is usually indicated for symptoms that are not responding to conservative treatment. Displaced bucket-handle tears causing locking or lack of motion usually require more urgent surgical intervention. The goal of treatment is to reduce pain, swelling and improve functional abilities and participation in exercise or sports. Below is a short video of a meniscal surgery I performed.
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