The knee is one of the most commonly injured joints in the body. Any sport or activity that requires quick cutting and turning while running places the structures in the knee at risk of a torn meniscus, especially when bearing one’s full weight and making rapid shifts in direction.
But what exactly is the meniscus? A meniscus is one of two semicircular bands of cartilage in each knee that cushion the internal structure of the knee between the femur (thighbone) and the tibia (shinbone).
The word meniscus is a derivation of the Greek word meniskos, which means “moon” or “crescent.” The name is therefore based on the shape of this piece of cartilage in the body.
Each set of two menisci serve as shock absorbers between the bones in the upper leg and the lower leg. But when too much pressure – or repeated pressure – is placed on this special section of cartilage, it can rupture.
Symptoms of a Meniscus Tear
Damage to a meniscus will cause pain, swelling, and stiffness of the knee. It will feel difficult to either bend or straighten the leg.
When the actual injury occurs, it’s possible to feel or hear a popping sound coming from the knee. You may also experience rapid swelling and pain when twisting or rotating the lower leg.
Diagnosing a Torn Meniscus
A physical exam by a physician can identify a general knee injury. However, to adequately and properly diagnose a torn meniscus, the doctor will likely order an imaging exam such as an X-ray or MRI. This will help to rule out other injuries that display similar symptoms.
Treating a Torn Meniscus
Conservative measures are first attempted when treating any soft-tissue injury like a torn meniscus. First is the RICE method: rest, ice, compression, and elevation. Also recommended are over-the-counter NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), and possibly crutches, a brace, and curtailing of any physical activity for a few weeks.
If the meniscus is only partially torn, the aforementioned methods may heal it completely. However, if it is fully torn, surgical intervention may be necessary to repair it.
If surgery is indeed required, it will be done arthroscopically, which is a minimally invasive operation that offers optimum healing. This method permits surgical repair without large incisions and cutting of muscles, thereby dramatically shortening the recovery period from this type of knee surgery.
Sometimes doctors will order a period of physical therapy to try to strengthen surrounding tissues to avoid surgery, or in preparation for surgery. If surgery is performed, therapy will definitely follow to assist the patient with healing.
Physical Therapy After Knee Surgery
Physical therapists have many targeted approaches to healing an injured knee, including the following:
- Range-of-motion exercises. These are performed in order to restore normal straightening and bending of the knee.
- Quadriceps exercises. These help in strengthening the muscles that support the knee.
- Straight-leg raises. The purpose of these is to strengthen the hip, which has a direct effect on the proper positioning and performance of the knee joint.
Sports Medicine Specialists in San Antonio
If you or someone you know has injured their knee, our medical team at the Center for Orthopaedic Surgery and Sports Medicine can help get you on the road to recovery.
Contact us today by calling (210) 692-7400 or request a consultation online, and let us help you get back on your feet – better, faster, and stronger.
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