Like any knee injury, a meniscus injury can be excruciating. Meniscus tears are one of the most common injuries to the cartilage in the knee. The meniscus itself is a piece of cartilage that stabilizes and cushions the joint. However, it’s easy to injure the meniscus by twisting your knee. In some cases, a portion of the damaged cartilage comes loose and gets stuck in the knee joint, preventing the person from straightening or bending it.
Meniscus injuries are particularly common in sports such as football and those that require jumping and cutting such as soccer and volleyball. These injuries can occur when a person suddenly changes direction while running; they often take place at the same time as anterior cruciate ligament injuries or other knee injuries. Older athletes have a higher risk as the meniscus weakens with age.
Meniscus Injury Symptoms
Someone who has experienced a meniscus tear may notice pain, swelling, or difficulty straightening and bending the knee; the knee may also become locked or stuck in one position. There may be a popping sound or sensation when the injury occurs. The pain will not necessarily be severe at first; many people have continued playing through these injuries, only to discover them later when the pain and inflammation begin. If you think you may have injured your meniscus, your doctor can give you a thorough examination and ask about how the injury happened. You may also need an x-ray or MRI to rule out other problems such as broken bones.
Meniscus Injury Treatment
The best treatment for a meniscus injury depends on factors such as its size and location. Other factors that help determine treatment include activity level, age, and related injuries. Some meniscus injuries can heal on their own while others cannot and will require more aggressive treatment measures. That does not necessarily mean surgery, however. As long as your knee is stable and isn’t locking up, nonsurgical measures may be all you need. These include rest, ice, compression, and elevation (RICE) as well as anti-inflammatory medications and exercises designed to strengthen and stretch the knee.
In some cases, these conservative treatments may not be enough. If the tear is unstable or large or is causing the knee to lock up, surgery may be required to repair or remove damaged parts of the meniscus. This surgery is generally simple with most patients going home the same day. You may need to wear a brace for a while afterward to protect the knee. Most patients achieve excellent results after surgery. Those with large tears that cannot be repaired may be more likely to develop knee arthritis in the future.
Meniscus Injury Recovery
How long it will take for you to feel better depends on the severity of your injury and other factors. If you had surgery, full recovery would usually take around four to six weeks. Physical therapy is often helpful. It’s important to follow your doctor’s instructions and not push yourself too hard while your knee is healing. When you can bend and straighten your knee fully without pain, there is no pain when you walk, jog, or jump, and your knee is no longer swollen, you will most likely be able to return to your normal activities.